Fact Check: Cherry-Picked Snippet Of CNN's Dr. Leana Wen Does NOT Accurately Convey Her Advice About Masks As COVID-19 Protection

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: Cherry-Picked Snippet Of CNN's Dr. Leana Wen Does NOT Accurately Convey Her Advice About Masks As COVID-19 Protection Cut Off

Did CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen say, "Don't wear a cloth mask. Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations"? Yes, she did say that when speaking about the possibility of New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio canceling the New Year's Eve ball drop in Times Square -- but in addition to those 13 words, she spoke several dozen in which she encouraged people to wear a high quality three-ply surgical mask "in light of omicron."

Wen spoke to concerns about the 2021 holiday season surge of COVID cases with CNN correspondent Victor Blackwell on December 20, 2021. A six-second clip taken from the 1:20 minute segment appears in a post published on Facebook by Young Americans for Liberty on December 21, 2021, with the caption:

"Don't wear a cloth mask. Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations." - CNN's Dr. Leana Wen
And there it is.

This is how the post appeared on Facebook at the time of writing:


(Image source Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Dec 22 21:25:24 2021 UTC)

This excerpt, posted to a Facebook page that routinely mocks mask-wearing and mask mandates, makes it sound as if Wen is discouraging the use of masks. But the opposite is true: She advocated for the wearing of fine-pore masks.

Wen's comments can be viewed in full at cnn.com, embedded in the December 21, 2021, article titled, "Is it time to cancel your holiday plans? An expert weighs in."

Wen says:

I do not think that Mayor De Blasio should be canceling the New York City event -- because it requires proof of vaccination and it's outdoors. We should be keeping the events that are safe and also the events that have fun for people too. We can't be canceling everything -- especially if we are going to be living with COVID for the foreseeable future. I would say if you choose to go, make sure that you are vaccinated and boosted. Make sure that you are wearing a mask even though it's outdoors. If there are lots of people packed around you, wear a three ply surgical mask. Don't wear a cloth mask. Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. There is no place for them in light of omicron. And so wear a high quality mask, at least a three ply surgical mask, and if you are going to be visiting elderly relatives or immunocompromised people after, wait three days, get tested and then see those vulnerable people.

In a December 20, 2021, washingtonpost.com opinion article, Wen echoed this comment, recommending medical-grade surgical masks:

First, wear a high-quality mask. Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations and should not be considered an acceptable form of face covering. The United States should follow Germany's example in requiring medical-grade surgical masks to be worn in crowded indoor spaces. On trains and planes, N95 or KN95 respirator masks should be the norm, as they are in Austria.

Wen shared a 48-second-long clip of the CNN segment on Twitter and also posted an additional tweet to clarify her statement after receiving some blowback on Twitter, saying:

My point isn't that we don't need masks, but rather that we should require masks that are most effective to prevent disease transmission. Everyone, including children, should be wearing at least a 3-ply surgical mask when indoors & around others of unknown vaccination status.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

  Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson lives with her family and pets on a small farm in Indiana. She founded a Facebook page and a blog called “Exploiting the Niche” in 2017 to help others learn about manipulative tactics and avoid scams on social media. Since then she has collaborated with journalists in the USA, Canada and Australia and since December 2019 she works as a Social Media Authenticity Analyst at Lead Stories.


Read more about or contact Sarah Thompson

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