To end coronavirus panic, have every single American wear a DIY mask
I am not a big fan of Dr. Fauci. As I previously wrote, the 79-year-old has no operational role in the federal response efforts and should be working at home. Instead, he is desperate for as many media appearances as possible, and each time he shows up, he has a different take on things. In the latest New England Journal of Medicine, he writes that the Wuhan flu may be no worse than a typical bad flu season, in stark contrast to the panicky predictions he made earlier. Then he started hiking the numbers later in March but sort of backed down at the next day's presidential news conference. The sad thing is, he is not a medical numbers or stats expert, but he remains the leading voice keeping the "national lockdown" strategy going, with no end in sight and no ideas to offer.
There is a better way. We can get the country going back to work and back to school this April by having everyone start wearing masks. Universal masking is the centerpiece of former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb's strategy, and the best part is most people don't need a medical-grade N95 mask. Those are in short supply and need to go hospitals anyway. But an easily made, DIY, multi-ply cotton mask would be just the ticket for most people. If we can get the millions of people who may have the virus but are asymptomatic, to make and use their own masks, that will quickly stop the spread.
No, homemade masks are not as good as N95, and people will need to follow proper instructions on making them, cleaning them, and even taking them off. But if they just reduce the virus spread by 50% (a very easily obtainable level for DIY masks ) for someone who would not otherwise be wearing one, that is a huge accomplishment.
As a medical researcher recently pointed out, we are not doing DIY masks not because they don't work — over two dozen studies show they help a lot — but because the surgeon general has made a specious case against them, abetted by the WHO. They are afraid that more regular folks with masks will cheat hospitals of their N95s. Well, obviously not if they are DIY. They also assert, without evidence, that masks make people feel invulnerable and more sloppy. Sorry, but if you have a mask, you are most likely to be very serious about your behavior. And third, they claim that DIY and N95 masks don't offer much protection for people not yet infected by the virus. Somewhat true, but they do offer a huge amount of reduction in virus shedding for people who already have the virus, the most important people to contain.
Making your own mask is something everybody can do. YouTube is already filling up with DIY mask videos for anybody who cares to try. And it's not as though the country has anything better to do while we are on lock down. We would likely see the good results by the end of this month if we all got on this. People in low-outbreak places — most of the country — or on work sites that are not normally crowded, like factory floors, warehouses, and box stores, could be back in operation once again with everyone masked up.
Even the CDC, if not the surgeon general, is now reported to be reconsidering its recommendation against general mask use. Hopefully, this will be another instance of common sense overwhelming the federal edifice.
And who knows? In parts of East Asia. they have a culture that encourages mask-wearing for anyone who has even a mild case of the sniffles. These places are also inhabited by the most polite people in the world. If we bring a medical mask culture to America, I wonder if we also become more polite. Yet another good reason to bring on the masks, starting with the White House press corps.
Frank Friday is an attorney in Louisville, Kentucky.