FACT CHECK: Did The CDC Release Data Showing Face Masks Are ‘Collecting’ COVID-19?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

A post shared on Facebook claims data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows “people who wear masks, are actually ‘collecting’ the virus in their masks.”

Verdict: False

The post misinterprets the CDC data. The report, which primarily focused on community and close contact exposure, found that a higher percentage of respondents that tested negative self-reported “always” wearing masks than those who tested positive.

Fact Check:

The post features a screen grab of a data table that comes from the CDC’s Sept. 11 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The report examined the behavior of 314 symptomatic adults that tested positive or negative for COVID-19 in July. Of those participants, 154 patients, referred to as “case patients,” tested positive, while 160 patients, referred to as “control patients,” tested negative, according to the report.

Social media users pointed to the highlighted row in the data table showing that 108 case patients, or 70.6 percent, self-reported “always” wearing a mask “14 days before illness onset” as proof that masks are “collecting” the virus. That is, however, a misinterpretation of the data presented in the report.

The September report found that “close contact with persons with known COVID-19 or going to locations that offer on-site eating and drinking options were associated with COVID-19 positivity.” Adults that tested positive for COVID-19 were about twice as likely to have dined at a restaurant than adults who tested negative, meaning that “eating and drinking on-site at locations that offer such options might be important risk factors” for contracting the virus, according to the report.

The survey results also show that more participants who tested negative self-reported that they “always” wore a mask than those who tested positive and self-reported the same level of mask usage. 226 of the 314 participants reported they “always” wore masks.

Of the 160 control patients (those who tested negative), 74.2 percent self-reported “always” wearing a mask, according to the data. That percentage is 3.6 points higher than the 70.6 percent of case patients that self-reported “always.” The data also shows that a slightly higher percentage of case patients self-reported “rarely” or “never” wearing masks than control patients.

The CDC on Oct. 13 addressed misinterpretations of the report on Twitter, saying, “The interpretation that more mask-wearers are getting infected compared to non-mask wearers is incorrect.” (RELATED: Does This Image Show An NHS Graphic Claiming That COVID-19 Doesn’t Exist?)

“CDC guidance on masks has clearly stated that wearing a mask is intended to protect other people in case the mask wearer is infected,” Jasmine Reed, a CDC public affairs specialist, told the Daily Caller News Foundation in an email. “At no time has CDC guidance suggested that masks were intended to protect the wearers.”

Scientific studies show that wearing masks reduces the transmission of COVID-19 by blocking respiratory droplets. The virus primarily spreads person-to-person through respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks, according to the CDC. The report notes that masks “cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking,” suggesting the importance of masks.

Wesley Self, one of the report’s lead authors, told Health Feedback, “We are not aware of any of our data showing that wearing a mask increases the risk for COVID-19.”

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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