TWhile the first Covid-19 vaccines are now being given to healthcare workers, other frontline workers, and the elderly in the United States, it will likely be months before enough Americans are vaccinated to stop the spread of the disease. SARS-CoV-2. And with a more infectious variant, called B.1.1.7, which is spreading globally – for which the vaccine’s effectiveness is still unknown – more needs to be done to prevent as many infections and save as many lives as possible. Wearing a mask can help.
Wearing a mask or face mask in two high-risk scenarios can help prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. These include being indoors with other people outside of your immediate social bubble, in places like grocery stores, indoor malls, restaurants, churches, public transportation, and more. and be out in a crowd.
While most masks provide some level of protection for wearers and those around them, many masks, including widely used fabric and surgical masks, only partially filter out the small, spreading particles of Covid-19, called aerosols, which people give off when they cough, sneeze, breathe and talk. As demonstrated in a recent study, high filtration (hi-fi) masks like N95 masks are the best protection against these small particles.
As the country waits for the strengthening of the population’s immunity through vaccination, we need a national Hi-Fi mask initiative to produce masks that offer better protection against droplets and aerosolized viral particles. and also reduce the number of these emitted into the environment by people infected with SARS-CoV-2.
Wearing a hi-fi mask significantly reduces the risk of becoming infected with Covid-19 during close contact with someone with the disease. Two of us (AK and RD) have firsthand experience: We have worn N95 masks over the past year as we have cared for Covid-19 patients and neither has caught Covid-19 , as shown by regular negative PCR tests.
Such masks could have the same effect in indoor environments and could also help reduce mass-market events.
As the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 increases again across the country, so do the risks of infectious aerosols being emitted and lingering in the air in indoor places frequented by people. This may, to some extent, explain infections in people who otherwise “were doing everything right” but who were still infected.
We proposed the need for such masks at the start of the pandemic and emphasized that masks would be a safe way to get people back to school or work. In July, we co-signed an open letter calling for a national mask initiative as well which was also signed by over 70 scientists and public health advocates, including two former Senate Majority leaders, two former Cabinet officials. and several epidemiologists and infectious diseases. experts.
Later this month, a new administration keen to act on the pandemic plans to request 100 days of masking. It’s a good start. But the Biden administration must also do something in tandem: invoke the Defense Production Act to immediately step up production of already certified hi-fi masks and accelerate the development of new models.
The South Korean government, for example, began purchasing and shipping large batches of KF-94 masks (its N95 equivalent) early in the pandemic to make sure everyone had access to them.
Ideally, a set of masks would be sent to every American household each month – the costs to do so are pale compared to the pandemic’s toll on lives and the economy. Using such masks, in combination with other harm reduction strategies, would create safer workspaces for essential workers, many of whom are currently not a priority for getting early immunizations.
Since the onset of the pandemic, surgical and cloth masks have become widely available at drugstores, grocery stores, hardware stores, online and elsewhere. Hi-fi masks should also be made available everywhere in these same places, some of which are already in coordination with the federal government to deploy Covid-19 vaccines.
Given the unprecedented scale of Covid-19 vaccination programs, their deployment may not go as well as expected. Production and supply chain issues, coupled with fragmented adoption, are likely to cause delays until the country reaches the point of functional herd immunity.
More and better masks can help us reach this stage with fewer infections and deaths. With validated designs already on the market, mass production of hi-fi masks could proceed relatively quickly.
The value of a national Hi-Fi mask initiative would last long after this pandemic has died out. It’s only a matter of time before we face yet another respiratory pathogen like SARS-CoV-2, or even a potential biological weapon, which could be even worse. In such scenarios – as with Covid-19 – vaccines would take months to be ready.
Just as every home should have a fire extinguisher, every person should have easy access to a hi-fi mask that can be used to protect against such threats.
Abraar Karan and Ranu Dhillon are doctors at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Devabhaktuni Srikrishna is the founder of Patient know-how, which curates patient educational content on YouTube, including a list of N95 masks and hi-fi alternatives. The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of their institutions.