The Thanksgiving craze will lead to a new Covid-19 outbreak. The infection rate is accelerating, and more and more people in the hospital are over 65 years old. The wave of the past has prompted people to reduce their activities, but recent Google mobile data has not shown a major change in behavior. However, many Americans can take one simple step to protect themselves: buy better masks.
The widespread use of masks has become an unfortunate flashpoint in the political debate about how to take Covid seriously. Opponents believe that masks will not protect you, so why wear masks? The premise is wrong, but the level of protection depends on the type of mask.
As part of my discussions with the government in the spring, around the advantages of federal guidelines, I recommend people to wear masks when going out. Many Covid transmissions come from people who are asymptomatic and do not know they are infected. The thinking at the time was that if more people were wearing masks, it could reduce transmission. For these purposes, data shows that many types of face coverings can reduce transmission.
At that time, medical masks were in short supply. As a compromise, it is recommended that the public use masks. Since then, the supply chain has been expanded. Although there is still a shortage of medical masks, medical staff have a dedicated supply chain. It is time to revise the guidance to consumers.
Cotton masks provide far less protection than surgical masks. If you only need a cloth mask, buy a thick mask. Fit masks made of cotton-polyester blends usually provide more protection. However, even a very good cloth mask can only provide 30% protection. Scarf or handkerchief, no more than 10%.
Surgical masks can provide you with better protection, about 60%. However, quality is very important. Many masks sold on Amazon, although they look like blue masks worn by nurses and doctors, they are not surgical masks. These masks are used for dust and allergy protection. The Food and Drug Administration will remove real medical procedure masks and designate them to provide one of three levels of protection. Generally, it is best to use a grade 2 or grade 3 medical mask.
N95 or equivalent masks provide the best protection and, if used properly, can filter out at least 95% of infectious particles. Online resources can help you put on a mask. In China, the equivalent mask is KN95, and in Europe, the equivalent mask is FFP2. The FDA has authorized a bunch of KN95 and FFP2 masks for emergency use. These masks have been tested and can provide equivalent protection to N95 masks. These options are listed on the FDA website.
Masks can also be evaluated by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health), which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which certifies industrial masks. Check if your mask is listed in the Niosh database. Many products claim to have N95 equivalence, but have not been tested and may be counterfeit products.
High-quality masks can be expensive, and a single N95 mask can cost $5. However, the use of some equipment in high-risk locations such as grocery stores can reduce the risk of transmission. The Department of Homeland Security issued online instructions on disinfecting and reusing N95 masks that can extend their life.
The governor can help: the state government can provide masks for high-risk individuals who are hard to find. They can also guide consumers to find the best masks they can buy. When manufacturers seek federal review or sell medical masks, the FDA and CDC usually consider the quality of the masks. However, state agencies have greater freedom to talk about all products sold online to consumers.
It will be difficult to slow down the current spread cycle. But encouraging Americans to wear higher-quality masks is a simple step that may make a difference.
Dr. Gottlieb is a resident researcher at the American Enterprise Institute and served as a member of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 2017-19. He is a board member of Pfizer and Illumina.
Post time: Dec-22-2020