Wearing Face Masks Is Key to Avoiding Shutdowns, Fauci Says
(Bloomberg) -- The United States’ top infectious-diseases doctor pleaded with Americans to set politics aside and wear a face mask to arrest an escalation of Covid-19 cases.
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and colleagues outlined how face coverings can help prevent Covid-19 in a commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He said Wednesday that overcoming politically driven biases around their use is critical for avoiding economically crippling shutdowns.
“We don’t want to shut down completely,” Fauci said in an online interview with Howard Bauchner, the journal’s editor-in-chief. “That’s almost radioactive now when you say that because of the situation of not wanting to hurt the economy. Well, if you don’t want to shut down, at least do the fundamental, basic things...the flagship of which is wearing a mask.”
A temporary lockdown along with a A$200 ($140) fine for not complying with mask-wearing laws in Melbourne helped the city crush an explosive outbreak, Fauci said.
“The fact that it was accomplished in a major cosmopolitan city in a country like Australia made me feel that there is hope for us to get this under control,” said Fauci, who was presented the National Academy of Medicine’s inaugural Presidential Citation for Exemplary Leadership earlier this month.
A vaccine to help control the coronavirus outbreak isn’t likely to be available in the U.S. until January, if then, Fauci said. Until then, “low-tech” tools to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are essential. “And it must be emphasized that these interventions will still be needed after a vaccine is initially available,” he said in the commentary.
The scientific community accepts that masks may need to be routinely worn for another year or more, but the general public might not understand that yet, said Rochelle Walensky, chief of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
“Everybody wants to know, when can I go out to eat again and when can I take off my mask?” Walensky said in an online interview with Bauchner last week. “And I don’t see a path to that through at least 2021, maybe ‘22. Maybe we’ll be going out to eat, but I think we’re going to be with masks for a long time.”
Fauci, who has advised six U.S. presidents, said inconsistent mask-wearing is a significant impediment to controlling the pandemic in the U.S., where the daily number of reported Covid-19 cases totaled a record 85,317 on Saturday, and may lead to another 100,000 deaths in coming months.
“We can’t have this very inconsistent wearing, where you see some states that absolutely refuse to wear a mask,” the 79-year-old physician and immunologist said. “It almost becomes a political statement. We’ve got to get away from that.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the wearing of face masks to prevent spreading Covid-19 in April, though the advice hasn’t been uniformly heeded and President Donald Trump has been a sporadic user and inconsistent advocate for face masks.
Fauci stopped short of calling for a mask mandate, instead imploring Americans to look “at the consequences of what happens” when they’re not worn.
“We have to sort of shake each other by the collar and say, ‘Take a look at what’s going on. Look at the data’,” he said. “We’re in a very difficult situation. And countries that have done it the other way have done it and been successful. So let’s put aside these extraordinary excuses for not doing it when we’re dealing with a situation that’s not trivial. We have 225,000 deaths. The modeling tells us we’re going to get a hundred or more thousand as we get into the winter.”
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