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US health experts join chorus of mask support

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-06-09 09:48

Demonstrators wearing protective face masks with the message "I can't breathe" attend a protest against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Los Angeles, California, US June 2, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Health experts in the United States continue to emphasize the need for, and effectiveness of, wearing face masks to help protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In a study commissioned by the World Health Organization and published on Monday in the medical journal The Lancet, researchers found that face coverings and masks reduced the spread of the virus by up to 80 percent.

The WHO said a mask combined with social distancing and frequent hand-washing is beneficial but not 100 percent effective.

"Although distancing, face masks and eye protection were each highly protective, none made individuals totally impervious from (COVID-19) infection," wrote study lead author Derek Chu, a clinician-scientist in the department of medicine at McMaster University in Canada.

US President Donald Trump tours medical equipment distributor Owens & Minor in Allentown, Pennsylvania, US, May 14, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Some conservatives have argued that masks are being used to "control" the public. US President Donald Trump has refused to be seen wearing a mask in public, though he wore one while out of view during a May visit to a Ford plant in Michigan that was making medical equipment.

The president retweeted mockery of Joe Biden, the Democrats' presumptive 2020 presidential nominee, for wearing a mask at a Memorial Day celebration.

The original tweet, from conservative columnist Lee Smith, said: "Masks aren't about public health but social control. Image of Biden in black mask endorses culture of silence, slavery, and social death."

Columnist Molly McCann, writing in The Federalist, a conservative publication, said that making people wear masks was "anti-American: Mandatory masks are a critical predicate conditioning us to accept abuses of our liberty".

Nearly 110,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and nearly 2 million had been infected as of Sunday. Worldwide, there have been nearly 7 million cases and more than 400,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The WHO has advised that an N95 mask-the type used in medical settings-provides the best form of protection, although many people opt for fabric masks, which are easier to use and acquire.

Various N95 respiration masks at a laboratory of 3M, which has been contracted by the US government to produce extra masks in response to the country's novel coronavirus outbreak, in Maplewood, Minnesota, US March 4, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

In April, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams appeared in a video tutorial on how to make fabric face masks. But critics noted that this represented a reversal from February, when he'd tweeted: "STOP BUYING (N95) MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching#Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can't get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!"

William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, told China Daily: "We in infectious diseases and public health … think that (masks are) absolutely fundamental to trying to reduce the transmission of the COVID virus. That is because we are aware that a large proportion-perhaps over a third of COVID infections-are without symptoms.

"We're really promoting the use of masks, and the (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) does, too, in order to prevent transmission to others. That is, 'I'm wearing the mask to protect you' and 'You wear the mask to protect me.' Of course, the mask provides me some protection also. The main reason (for wearing one) is that in the event that I have an infection and I'm not aware of it, I will not transmit it to you."

Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, is also a supporter of masks. She has said there was "clear scientific evidence "from multiple experiments that masks prevent infectious droplets from reaching others.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and also a member of the White House task force, said in May, "I want to protect myself and protect others, and also because I want to make it be a symbol for people to see that that's the kind of thing you should be doing."

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo exits a #7 Subway train in Manhattan on the first day of New York City's phase one reopening during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, New York, US, June 8, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has also repeatedly touted the benefits of masks. He signed an executive order on May 29 that said New York shop owners can deny entry to anyone not wearing a face covering. On April 15, Cuomo ordered New York residents over the age of 2 to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or cloth while in public spaces.

"I've been working to communicate this message about masks and how effective they are," Cuomo said. "They are deceptively effective. They are amazingly effective."

The United States and other Western countries have been slow to adopt face masks, while governments in Asia, including China and South Korea, urged residents to wear masks early in the pandemic.

Ivan Hung, an infectious diseases specialist at the Hong Kong University School of Medicine, told CNN: "If you look at the data in Hong Kong, wearing a mask is probably the most important thing in terms of infection control."

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