The White House says “we are not going to control the pandemic.”
But Dr. Anthony Fauci disagrees, and scientific evidence is on his side.
Fauci and two of his colleagues from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease co-authored a new JAMA viewpoint.
They lay out why a combination of “low-tech” coronavirus-fighting measures, including masks, distancing, handwashing, and fast testing are all critical for controlling the pandemic.
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The White House is calling it quits on fighting the coronavirus.
“We are not going to control the pandemic,” President Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, told CNN on Sunday.
But America’s top infectious disease expert is still in it to win it.
Dr. Anthony Fauci says one of the most potent and “low-tech” things everyone can do right now to help control the spread of this virus is also extremely simple: keep on wearing that mask.
Fauci stressed the disease-fighting measure once again Monday in a Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) viewpoint, authored with his colleagues Dr. Andrea Lerner and Dr. Gregory Folkers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The trio’s science-backed mask up reminder comes just as the US is dealing with its greatest surge of coronavirus infections yet, and with a decent, widely-available coronavirus vaccine still many months away.
“Ultimately, a safe and effective vaccine will be essential to control the pandemic and allow resumption of the many activities of normal life,” Fauci and his colleagues wrote in their JAMA letter.
But, in the meantime, we have a few “low-tech” tools which are going to be essential to controlling the spread of this new virus, the doctors said. And masks are a major one.
The others we already have include: “physical distancing, hand hygiene, prompt testing (along with isolation and contact tracing), and limits on crowds and gatherings,” Fauci and his colleagues said.
None of these interventions, taken on its own, will fully end the pandemic, but together they can work to dramatically cut down on the number of coronavirus infections and deaths we will see in the weeks and months ahead.
“Return to normalcy,” Fauci and his colleagues said, “will require the widespread acceptance and adoption of mask wearing and other inexpensive and effective interventions.”
Here are the biggest reasons why Fauci and his colleagues are arguing it’s really important to for everyone keep on donning a mask during the pandemic:
Mask usage goes hand in hand with lower COVID-19 infection rates in the US, and around the world
There is a clear pattern that has been established at this point in the pandemic, based on studies conducted in hospitals and homes around the world: wherever masks are worn, coronavirus transmission rates tumble.
A study of 124 households in Beijing conducted early-on in the pandemic, which Fauci and his co-authors cited, found that Chinese families who wore masks at home before anyone in the house ever knew they were sick with the virus saw lower odds of secondary infections (face mask use was “79% effective in reducing transmission,” the study said.)
And, in Massachussetts’ largest hospital system, after all health care workers and patients started wearing masks, virus “positivity rate among health care workers declined from 14.65% to 11.46%, with a decline of 0.49% per day,” Fauci’s viewpoint said.
Modeling studies back up this same idea on population-wide level, suggesting that putting on a face covering not only prevents more disease, it also saves lives.
Mask mandates may have “averted more than 200,000 cases of COVID-19 [the disease caused by the coronavirus] by May 22, 2020,” according to another study Fauci that and his co-authors cited.
More recent modeling estimates likewise suggest that if every American put on a mask now, more than 130,000 more US deaths could be prevented, by March 2021.
“Expanding mask use can be one of the ‘easy wins’ in the United States,” Christopher Murray, director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), told reporters on Friday, as that new model was released.
Masks also keep other people’s germs closer to them
Masks are the kind of armor you want everyone to wear.
They keep infected people’s germs closer to them, and as such are “a logical strategy to curb transmission,” Fauci and his colleagues said.
Even when people aren’t shouting, laughing, or singing (activities we know can spread the virus well) “masks can reduce respiratory virus shedding in exhaled breath,” which means not only are other people less likely to get sick from being around infected individuals wearing masks, they may, possibly, also get a milder case of the coronavirus, if indeed they do become infected.
Keep your mask on, even when you’re talking
Indoors, in stuffy, stagnant spaces without good ventilation, coronavirus particles can more easily linger in the air.
That’s why you should try to keep your mask on as much as possible.
“With the onset of colder weather in the northern hemisphere, activities will increasingly occur inside, resulting in often-unavoidable congregating,” Fauci and his colleagues said.
Knowing that such crowded, indoor spaces can be prone to a buildup of more virus in the air, “the commonly observed practice of individuals removing their mask when speaking is not advisable,” Fauci said.
Some people might never realize they have COVID-19, so everyone should wear a mask as much as possible
Another reason to wear a mask? Asymptomatic virus spread.
“Recent evidence suggests that up to 40% to 45% of people infected with [the coronavirus] may never be symptomatic, but still can transmit the virus,” Fauci and his colleagues said.
Because this means we can never, really, know exactly who has the virus and who doesn’t, “universal mask wearing in the community for source control is recommended,” they added.
Testing alone doesn’t work
This strategy was tried, and failed, at the White House already.
“No test is perfect,” Fauci and his colleagues said.
Tests can produce false negative results (telling people they’re sick when they’re really not), and all tests “have a lower limit of detection,” the doctors said, which means some cases of the coronavirus may never get picked up by a test.
“In addition, the result of a test represents just one point in time and does not indicate an individual’s status outside of the moment the specimen was collected,” Fauci and his co-authors added.
This is another way to say that a negative test one day won’t, necessarily, mean you’ll test negative for the virus the next, or the next.
“Reliance on testing alone to prevent transmission will be ineffective without the use of additional strategies such as mask wearing and physical distancing,” Fauci and his colleagues said.
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