- In an interview with the financial-news site TheStreet, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the public was initially told not to wear masks to stop COVID-19 because of shortages of PPE for doctors.
- He said the government’s shift in advice was because of “changing circumstances” and new research.
- He denied that earlier advice against wearing a mask was a contradiction of the new policy.
- Fauci now advocates masks “unequivocally” as a complementary measure to social distancing.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday the reason the public was advised not to wear masks at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic was that there were too few to go around.
In an interview with the financial-news site TheStreet, Fauci, the US government’s foremost infectious-diseases expert, was asked about the changing government advice on wearing masks.
In January through March, as the spread of the disease became more and more serious, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention actively discouraged the use of masks among the general public.
By early April, simple cloth face coverings were recommended for the general public, instead of protective personal equipment such as surgical and N95 masks, The New York Times reported.
Fauci’s comments echo those of Surgeon General Jerome Adams on March 2, when he said that the increased demand for masks was putting medical professionals at risk.
A few days earlier, he tweeted that masks were “not effective in preventing” COVID-19 in the general public, saying, “Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!” He later reversed his advice.
Fauci explained the early advice against masks by saying: “The public-health community – and many people were saying this – were concerned that it was at a time when personal protective equipment, including the N95 masks and the surgical masks, were in very short supply.”
N95 masks are higher-grade equipment than ordinary masks and mainly used by medical workers.
He added that the government did not want healthcare workers “to be without the equipment that they needed … We were afraid that that would deter away the people who really needed it.”
The government also knows more about the effectiveness of different types of masks than it did at the beginning, he said.
“Now we have masks, and we know that you don’t need an N95 if you’re an ordinary person in the street,” he said. “We also know that simple cloth coverings that many people have can work as well as a mask in many cases.”
Fauci acknowledged the appearance of a contradiction in the government’s public-health advice but denied this was the case. “Actually the circumstances have changed,” he said. “That’s the reason why.”
Fauci also came out “unequivocally” in favour of wearing masks in public, even though they do not offer a guarantee.
“Masks are not 100% protective,” he said. “However, they certainly are better than not wearing a mask.”
He also advocated social distancing, with masks as a backup.
“So physical separation … is the best way to get a virus not to get to you,” he said.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.