If we all wear a mask when we’re around others, particularly indoors, we’ll all be safer and we’ll get more of our economy back sooner. My initiative, Resolve to Save Lives, just published a review on the facts and best practices on mask use.
This hasn’t always been clear. We’ve never encountered the virus that causes COVID-19 before. Back in February and March, we learned that COVID-19 behaves very differently from most infectious diseases. Usually, the sicker you are, the more infectious you are. Surprisingly, that’s not how COVID-19 works.
FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE JUNE, THIS STATE ANNOUNCED LESS THAN 2,000 NEW CORONAVIRUS CASES
You’re most infectious at the start of the illness, even before you feel sick. I’m an infectious disease doctor, and that was startling.
It’s not too late for us to get back on the right track to save lives and our economy by wearing masks consistently and correctly.
My particular area of experience is tuberculosis. With tuberculosis – as with SARS, which is closely related to COVID – patients who are very sick are the most infectious. This surprising finding, along with supply shortages of medical and surgical masks, was one reason for conflicting recommendations early in the pandemic, and one reason for continuing confusion.
You could pass the infection to someone else, who could then pass it on further, to a parent or grandparent or someone with cancer. They might get very sick and die, as nearly 200,000 Americans already have.
One way to help stop COVID is for everyone to wear masks in public places whenever they’re within 6 feet of others, particularly indoors.
Masks prevent spread, and places in South Carolina and Kansas among others that require people to mask up have greatly reduced new cases.
If we had been wearing masks all along, there could have been a hundred thousand fewer deaths, millions fewer lost jobs and businesses, and a faster economic recovery. Masks are one of the least expensive and most effective ways of getting more of our lives back, faster.
It’s not too late for us to get back on the right track to save lives and our economy by wearing masks consistently and correctly. Masking up requires all of us to work together. We have a common enemy – the virus. When all of us wear masks, all of us are safer.
Some people believe that being forced to wear a mask is an infringement of their rights. In fact, you don’t have to wear a mask – as long as you don’t get near other people outside of your family.
The virus spreads more indoors, in poorly ventilated spaces, when people sing, shout, cough, or sneeze – this is why masks are so important indoors when near others. We won’t have to wear them forever, just long enough for us to get the virus under control.
Wearing a mask won’t solve everything, but it will let us start doing more, and, as cases continue to drop, even more.
As more people wear masks, there will be less disease spread. More of our society and economy can re-open, and there will be less risk of having to shut back down because of an outbreak.
In countries where people started wearing masks correctly and consistently early in the pandemic, just about everything except very large indoor events has reopened. These places still have new cases, but they’ve been reduced to such low numbers that the virus is under control. Localized outbreaks can be stopped without having to resort to widespread closures.
Masks don’t have to separate us from other people, they can help bring us closer together. Properly worn – over the nose and down to the chin, fitting tightly – they simply separate us from the virus.
To fight COVID-19, we also need coordinated action by governments and communities. But all of us can do our part by wearing a mask. It’s simple, inexpensive, and will help get our economy running again – and get back our freedom to once again do the things we most want to.
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Tom Frieden is a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He is Senior Fellow for Global Health, Council for Foreign Relations and president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, part of the public health organization Vital Strategies, @DrTomFrieden