Top government infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that coronavirus task force experts were meeting to weigh a recommendation that Americans wear protective masks to slow transmission of the coronavirus.
Fauci said officials would balance competing issues – not only whether there is a sufficient benefit to the public, but the risks of putting a further strain on the desperate push to manufacture protective equipment for medical professionals.
‘That’s under very active consideration. We’ll be discussing it today, this afternoon, at the task force meeting,’ Fauci told CNN Tuesday.
As coronavirus deaths and infections soar, Fauci was asked whether Americans should start wearing masks of the home-made variety or bandanas. He agreed the idea may have merit.
Dr. Anthony Fauci says the coronavirus task force is discussing ‘community-wide use of masks’ to prevent spread of infection
‘The idea of getting a much more broad community-wide use of masks outside of the health care setting is under very active discussion at the task force,’ he said.
He said a group of officials from the Centers for Disease Control ‘is looking at that very carefully.’ But issues of supply are paramount.
‘The thing that has inhibited that a bit is to make sure we don’t take away the supply of masks from the health care workers who need them.
‘But once we get in a situation where we have enough masks, I believe there will be some very serious consideration about more broadening this recommendation of using masks,’ he continued.
‘We’re not there yet, but I think we’re close to coming to some determination.
‘Because if, in fact, a person who may or may not be infected wants to prevent infecting somebody else, the best way to do that is with a mask. Perhaps that’s the way to go,’ he added.
Fauci spoke as the states and federal government are racing to procure masks for hospitals, and FDA officials approved a new method to wash and reuse masks that have come into short supply. A concern is the possibility that Americans, who have taken to hoarding toilet paper and stripping grocery shelves bare, will take masks away from others who need them.
DO FACE MASKS MAKE A DIFFERENCE AND WHAT SHOULD YOU WEAR IF YOU CAN’T GET ONE?
Americans are increasingly being spotted wearing face masks in public amid the coronavirus pandemic, as are people are around the globe.
Soon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may advise all Americans to cover their faces when they leave the house, the Washington Post reported.
The agency is weighing that recommendation after initially telling Americans that they didn’t need to wear masks and that anything other than a high-grade N95 medical mask would do little to prevent infection any way.
FACE MASKS DO HELP PREVENT INFECTION – BUT THEY’RE NOT ALL CREATED EQUAL
Research on how well various types of masks and face coverings varies but, recently, and in light of the pandemic of COVID-19, experts are increasingly leaning toward the notion that something is better than nothing.
A University of Oxford study published on March 30 concluded that surgical masks are just as effective at preventing respiratory infections as N95 masks for doctors, nurses and other health care workers.
It’s too early for their to be reliable data on how well they prevent infection with COVID-19, but the study found the thinner, cheaper masks do work in flu outbreaks.
The difference between surgical or face masks and N95 masks lies in the size of particles that can – and more importantly, can’t – get though the materials.
N95 respirators are made of thick, tightly woven and molded material that fits tightly over the face and can stop 95 percent of all airborne particles, while surgical masks are thinner, fit more loosely, and more porous.
This makes surgical masks much more comfortable to breathe and work in, but less effective at stopping small particles from entering your mouth and nose.
Droplets of saliva and mucous from coughs and sneezes are very small, and viral particles themselves are particularly tiny – in fact, they’re about 20-times smaller than bacteria.
For this reason, a JAMA study published this month still contended that people without symptoms should not wear surgical masks, because there is not proof the gear will protect them from infection – although they may keep people who are coughing and sneezing from infecting others.
But the Oxford analysis of past studies – which has not yet been peer reviewed – found that surgical masks were worth wearing and didn’t provide statistically less protection than N95 for health care workers around flu patients.
However, any face mask is only as good as other health and hygiene practices. Experts universally agree that there’s simply no replacement for thorough, frequent hand-washing for preventing disease transmission.
Some think the masks may also help to ‘train’ people not to touch their faces, while others argue that the unfamiliar garment will just make people do it more, actually raising infection risks.
If the CDC does instruct Americans to wear masks, it could create a second issue: Hospitals already face shortages of masks and other PPE.
WHAT TO USE TO COVER YOUR FACE IF YOU DON’T HAVE A MASK
So the agency may recommend regular citizens use alternatives like cloth masks or bandanas.
‘Homemade masks theoretically could offer some protection if the materials and fit were optimized, but this is uncertain,’ Dr Jeffrey Duchin, a Seattle health official told the Washington Post.
A 2013 study found that next to a surgical mask, a vacuum cleaner bag provided the best material for a homemade mask.
After a vacuum bag, kitchen towels were fairly protective, but uncomfortable. Masks made of T-shirts were very tolerable, but only worked a third as well as surgical mask. The Cambridge University researchers concluded that homemade masks should only be used ‘as a last resort.’
But as the pandemic has spread to more than 164,000 people worldwide, it might be time to consider last resort options.
People wearing masks walk past Elmhurst Hospital in the Borough of Queens on March 31, 2020 in New York. Officials are considering changes in recommendations for ordinary Americans in the community
People wait in line, mostly wearing masks, while maintaining social distancing as they wait in line for a COVID-19 test at Elmhurst Hospital Center, New York. 27 March 2020
‘You don’t want to do, you don’t want to take masks away from the health care providers who are in a real and present danger of getting infected. That would be the worst thing we do. If we have them covered, then you could look back and say maybe we need to broaden this,’ Fauci said.
President Donald Trump said Monday the idea of calling for widespread use of masks is ‘certainly something we could discuss,” adding that “it could be something like that for a limited period of time.”
The Washington Post reported Monday that the CDC was considering changes to its official guidance on use of masks. The idea under discussion was for do-it-yourself masks made of cloth or bandanas.
Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb made the recommendation on CBS ‘Face the Nation’ Sunday. ‘A cotton mask — we should be putting out guidelines from the CDC on how you can develop a mask on your own,’ he said.
Gottlieb and other American Enterprise Institute authors included such a recommendation in a new report released Sunday. ‘There is emerging evidence that asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission of COVID-19 is possible, which complicates efforts to pursue case-based interventions. To reduce this risk during Phase I, everyone, including people without symptoms, should be encouraged to wear nonmedical fabric face masks while in public,’ he said.