. – Having Americans wear a mask is one of the Biden administration’s top priorities.
The president, who calls the use of masks “a patriotic act,” signed a decree on Wednesday – his first in office – asking Americans to wear masks of their choice during the first 100 days of the new government. The decree also mandates the use of masks on all federal properties, although in this case, just any old mask will not suffice.
On Wednesday after the inauguration, White House press secretary Jen Psaki displayed her N95 mask in the press conference room. “I wear it, of course, here today and will continue to do so,” said Psaki after removing his medical grade mask and before turning to questions.
N95 masks are considered the gold standard in personal protective equipment because they block 95% of large and small particles using a unique electrostatic filter.
The filter works by trapping neutral particles like bacteria and viruses before they pass through the mask, protecting the wearer and those around him. It is similar to how socks can be glued to a blanket in the dryer. The N95 mask, which costs about $ 5, also fits securely to the face, eliminating most of the leaks that can occur with a loose-fitting paper or fabric mask.
Studies have shown that face masks significantly reduce the chances of transmitting or contracting the coronavirus. But not all masks provide the same protection. Depending on the fabric and the number of layers, simple, homemade fabric masks have an effectiveness range that can be as low as 26%, leaving the user vulnerable.
Some experts, such as Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School physician Dr. Abraar Karan, have advocated for the public use of N95 masks since the beginning of the pandemic. In an interview with CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Karan outlined why N95s are critical at this stage in the pandemic.
“If for four weeks the country essentially wears these masks in those risky settings like that indoor space, what kind of difference do you think it would make?” Gupta asked.
“This would stop the epidemic,” Karan replied.
The quality of protection that a mask can provide is critical. A respiratory disease like the coronavirus is transmitted through aerosols, tiny particles that float and hang in the air. Some virus-carrying particles are small enough to travel through or around lower-quality masks, making the user vulnerable to inhalation of viral particles.
“We now know that aerosols spread best when there is poor ventilation, overcrowding and prolonged close contact,” Karan told Gupta in an interview. “So we were arguing that actually, in those settings, cloth masks alone are not going to block aerosols.”
Karan isn’t the only expert who has voiced support for better quality masks for the general public. Former US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb wrote in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that “encouraging Americans to wear higher quality masks is a simple step that could mark the difference”.
The biggest problem is the lack of supply. This week marked a full year of the coronavirus, and the Biden administration has pledged to invoke the Defense Production Act more frequently to boost the manufacturing of N95 masks and other critical supplies. The experts hope that the manufacturing reaches a rhythm to be able to supply enough to the population.
“A well-adjusted N95 is clearly the best thing to do,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNN on Friday. “Now you could get a production of that at a much higher rate.”
Karan believes that N95 masks could be an essential asset in reopening the economy, as the launch of the vaccine remains slow and quarantine fatigue skyrockets.
“If we have better personal protection for people, they can go back to work more safely. They can re-engage more safely, especially if testing and tracking are not where we need them, ”said Karan.
“This will be a way to get people to come back and make the economy recover.”
Some European countries are already taking that step to prevent the spread of the coronavirus within their borders. Earlier this week, Germany and France demanded that all citizens wear high-filtration masks like the N95 in all public places.
After months of treating coronavirus patients, Karan says it’s time to invest to make sure the masks people wear are even more effective. “Focus on bringing better masks to as many people as possible, focus on mask-related messages, be consistent with the message, make masks part of American culture to stop the epidemic.”
The key here is to always wear a mask when in public. A study published in the Lancet Digital Health found that a 10% increase in mask use could lead to a threefold increase in the odds of maintaining control over the transmission of the virus in a community. The ability to control the spread of the coronavirus is in our hands – and in our faces.