A screenshot of the CDC infographic taken on March 3, 2020

US disease experts did not issue novel coronavirus-related facial hair guide

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US media reports say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued facial hair recommendations for novel coronavirus prevention, citing an infographic. This is misleading; the graphic about facial hair and respirator use is more than two years old and is unrelated to the recent deadly outbreak.

“When it comes to novel coronavirus safety, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some suggestions about facial hair,” CNN said in an article.

“Side whiskers, soul patches, lampshades and handlebar moustaches are good to go, according to a CDC infographic,” said the article, which has since been corrected.

Other media have carried the same claim here, here and here, linking the graphic -- which shows different facial hair styles and how well they work with a respirator -- to the novel coronavirus.

But the graphic is from a November 2017 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) blog post -- more than two years before the discovery of the novel coronavirus, which has spread from China around the world, leaving thousands dead.

The “CDC does not currently recommend the general public use facemasks or respirators for #COVID19,” it said on Twitter, referring to the novel coronavirus.

“This 2017 @NIOSH graphic is intended for workers who wear tight-fitting respirators,” it added, retweeting a similar explanation from NIOSH, which is part of the CDC. 

A screenshot taken on March 3, 2020

The blog post now includes a warning at the top: “This blog and infographic from 2017 are intended for workers who wear respirators at work.”

The post was intended for people who want to grow facial hair for campaigns such as No-Shave November or Movember, but have to wear tight-fitting respirators.

“Research tells us that the presence of facial hair under the sealing surface causes 20 to 1000 times more leakage compared to clean-shaven individuals,” it said, recommending styles that do not interfere with these respirators.

While the CDC does not recommend face masks for people who are well, there are specific scenarios related to the novel coronavirus in which it does encourage their use.

“Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility),” according to the CDC’s website.


Julie Charpentrat