Nationwide use of face masks could bring the spread of Covid-19 under control if 90% to 95% of the U.S. population wore such face coverings, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday.
In an interview with the editor of JAMA, Fauci advocated all Americans wear masks as a key way to bring an end to the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly as a measure to reign in the spread of the virus until vaccines are widely available against the disease.
“If you don’t want to shut down at least do the fundamental basic things . . . the flagship of which is wearing a mask,” Fauci, who is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told Dr. Howard Bauchner, editor of JAMA during an interview Wednesday afternoon.
Fauci’s live interview builds on a viewpoint he and NIH colleagues Andrea Lerner and Gregory Folkers wrote for JAMA published earlier this week called “Preventing the Spread of SARS-CoV-2 With Masks and Other ‘Low-tech’ Interventions.” In the article, Fauci and colleagues from the NIH said wearing masks is critical along with a “toolbox” of low-tech interventions that include “physical distancing, hand hygiene, prompt testing (along with isolation and contact tracing), and limits on crowds and gatherings.”
If the American public embraced masking and other of these “low tech interventions,” the U.S. Covid-19 outbreak could be under control with deaths and cases of the virus dropping dramatically, Fauci and NIH colleagues wrote, echoing statements by the head of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention many times throughout the pandemic.
“We can’t have this very inconsistent wearing (of masks) where you have some states that absolutely refuse to wear a mask,” Fauci said. “It almost becomes a political statement. We have got to get away from that.”
The CDC first recommended that Americans wear face masks to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in early April but not all states have followed through and the Donald Trump White House has been inconsistent in advocating that all Americans wear masks, further politicizing the issue. Trump and his wife Melania Trump were among several who work in the White House not wearing masks who were infected with Covid-19 earlier this month and – in the last week – several of Vice President Mike Pence’s staffers that didn’t regularly wear masks were infected with the Coronavirus.
Meanwhile, cases of Covid-19 are surging to their highest levels since the outbreak with 70,000 infections being diagnosed every day along with an estimated 1,000 deaths from the deadly virus. There have been nearly 9 million Americans infected with Covid-19, according to the latest New York Times tally.
Several companies including Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Novavax are in final-stage clinical trials with vaccines against Covid-19, but it’s unclear when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will approve them or grant them emergency use authorizations. In the meantime, the answer is masking, Fauci said.
“If a vaccine has only moderate efficacy, or if vaccine uptake is low, these other modalities will be even more critical,” Fauci and his NIH colleagues wrote in their October 26 JAMA “viewpoint.”
“As countries around the world seek to safely reopen businesses, schools, and other facets of society, mask use in the community to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, in conjunction with other low-cost, low-tech, commonsense public health practices, is and will remain critical,” Fauci and his colleagues at the NIH wrote in JAMA earlier this week. “Return to normalcy will require the widespread acceptance and adoption of mask wearing and other inexpensive and effective interventions as part of the COVID-19 prevention toolbox.”
Watch the full video of Fauci’s interview with JAMA’s Bauchner below:
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