The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advocated for continued mask-wearing at a Senate hearing on Wednesday, stating that facial coverings could be more effective at preventing the spread of coronavirus than even a vaccine may be when one eventually becomes available.
CDC Director Robert Redfield made the suggestion by noting that a vaccine may not be effective at preventing contraction of COVID-19 for every person who gets one. Masks and facial coverings, on the other hand, will have roughly the same efficacy rate from one user to the next, if individuals are using masks the proper way.
“We have clear scientific evidence they work, I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine, because the immunogenicity may be 70 percent and if I don’t get an immune response, the vaccine’s not going to protect me, this face mask will,” Redfield said during his testimony.
The CDC director explained that the benefit of wearing masks couldn’t be understated at this time.
“These face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have, and I will continue to appeal for all Americans to embrace these face coverings, if we did it for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks we’d bring this pandemic under control,” Redfield added.
Redfield’s strong endorsement for wearing masks contrasts with what President Donald Trump has said on the matter. The president has, for instance, expressed open hostility toward those who promoted masks in the past, and suggested that wearing one was a political statement against him. For some time, Trump also refused to wear a mask in public, eventually doing so for the first time in July, several months into the pandemic and long after recommendations from health officials urging all Americans to wear coverings when out in public.
Even after he started wearing a mask in some settings, Trump has still expressed strong skepticism toward them, including during a town hall event on Tuesday night, where he stated that “a lot of people think that masks are not good.”
When pushed by host George Stephanopoulous to say who those people are, Trump answered, “waiters.” The president then went on to say why he thought masks were ineffective.
“They’re playing with the mask, so the mask is over, and they’re touching it, and then they’re touching the plate. That can’t be good,” Trump said.
A number of studies have found, however, that diligent mask-wearing within a community affected by coronavirus does appear to have a significant impact at slowing its spread. One such study found that areas implementing mask mandates early on, for example, may have prevented hundreds of thousands of infections from occurring.
Redfield’s comments on Wednesday match what he said a month ago, when he urged mask-wearing for Americans in more patriotic terms.
“For your country right now and for the war that we’re in against COVID, I’m asking you to do four simple things: Wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands and be smart about crowds,” Redfield said in mid-August.
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 6.8 million Americans have contracted COVID since the start of the pandemic in the United States, and more than 200,000 have died as a result of the disease so far.