A person riding the New York City subway wears a m
A person riding the New York City subway wears a mask. Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
  • US Vice President Mike Pence, now the head of the American coronavirus task force, said on Saturday that the "average American" does not need to "go out and buy" a mask to protect themselves from coronavirus.
  • Pence also said the US is working with 3M and other manufacturers to produce at least 35 million more masks per month.
  • Photos and reports have shown masks and other supplies flying off the shelves as Americans grapple with the possibility of an outbreak in the US.
  • The US surgeon general told people in a tweet to stop buying masks, calling them "NOT effective."
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American vice President Mike Pence said at a press conference Saturday that there is no need for people in the US to buy and wear masks to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus.

The announcement came after the US confirmed its first coronavirus death - a person in Washington state.

"The president mentioned masks," Pence said. "This morning we talked a great deal about additional medical supplies. Let me be very clear, and I'm sure the physicians who are up here will reflect this as well: The average American does not need to go out and buy a mask."

See also: Not all masks are equal when it comes to stopping coronavirus. Here’s what SA experts say

US President Donald Trump announced at a press conference at the White House on Wednesday that the vice president will in charge of the nation's coronavirus strategy. The federal government has faced criticism over its response to the virus as it continues to spread around the globe.

The US has access to 43 million medical masks, Trump said, just one of the resources that he credited with ensuring the country is "prepared for whatever circumstance."

The vice president said the US is contracting with 3M to create 35 million more masks each month. He also said the administration will work with other (as yet unnamed) mask manufacturers and added that the task force is working to develop a course of action that would prioritise masks for the use by "high-risk" healthcare professionals.

Pence cited the president's decision at the beginning of February to bar all foreign nationals who'd recently traveled in China as one reason that US citizens do not have to worry about the coronavirus. The American CDC also does not recommend that average US citizens wear masks

US Surgeon General Jerome Adams echoed the vice president's statement in a tweet on Saturday, urging people to "STOP BUYING MASKS." He said that they were "NOT effective" to the general public and said increased demand puts medical professionals at risk.

For the average person, face masks aren't all that effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19

The CDC only recommends masks for select groups of people: Those in a region currently experiencing an outbreak, healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients, and anyone who experiences flu-like symptoms.

For everyone else, other tried-and-true methods of avoiding illness, like steering clear of sick individuals, refraining from touching your face, and regularly washing your hands, are more effective than wearing masks.

"There's little harm in it," Eric Toner, a scientist at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, previously told Business Insider's Aria Bendix. "But it's not likely to be very effective in preventing it."

Meanwhile, masks and other supplies have started to fly off store shelves in the US as people stock up due to fears of an outbreak. More than 64 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in the US so far, and four are believed to be cases of community spread - those patients did not visit an area with an outbreak or have any known contact with someone sick.

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