US President-elect Joe Biden has said he will ask Americans to wear masks for his first 100 days in office to curtail the spread of coronavirus.
Biden has also said that he would order masks to be worn in all government buildings, considering the daunting fact that the US has recorded 14.1 million cases and 276,000 deaths from Covid-19, and masks can slow the spread and reduce infection rates. Biden is preparing to take office as pharmaceutical giants are poised to ship millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines to the American public.
The Trump White House has ignored calls from American health experts to create any mask mandates because they view these proposed mandates as “overly restrictive”.
So far we have primarily heard the opinions of two important political figures, but why do health experts say we should wear face masks for 100 days?
According to Pew Research Center:
Only 60% of Americans are currently prepared to take a coronavirus vaccine, up from 51% who said the same in September.
Pfizer, which says its vaccine is 95% effective in clinical trials, and Moderna, which says its vaccine is 94% effective, have both applied to the Food and Drug Administration for approval to begin distributing their drugs in the US.
As public health authorities brace for a surge in COVID-19 cases, experts in the infectious disease community welcome Biden’s plans.
“I think it’s brilliant. He will be able to require masks in all federal facilities throughout the country, those people are masked and observe social distancing. That will be very, very important,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, told Healthline.
“He and his team will model wearing masks, so that will change the whole tenor, the whole environment,” Schaffner added. “If people in authority, people who are admired, model the appropriate behavior, I think we can slowly, slowly persuade people who have been reluctant or even disdainful of wearing masks to join the rest of us.”
Convincing the public:
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report noting that the United States has entered a “phase of high-level transmission” of the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and called for “universal face mask use.”
But experts say getting the public to universally wear masks won’t be easy.
“We’re a very divided country, and I think the response will be divided. These are attitudes that are really baked in, and changing attitudes, feelings, emotions… is a large task,” Schaffner said.
“There are people who are undoubtedly committed to this and in their personal behavior are being very, very careful and mindful of themselves and others. There are others who… don’t even believe there is an epidemic and don’t understand it all, and others who find it either ‘unmanly’ or if you’re wearing the mask, that it must indicate that you are of a certain political persuasion, and if they’re not of that persuasion, then they’re not going to wear a mask. That’s where the attitude comes in,” Schaffner said.
Dr. Anne Liu is an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care in California.
She said the amount of opposition to public health recommendations has been disheartening.
“I’m feeling a little discouraged by the amount of not just disregard for public health recommendations but also the number of intensity people has expressed against public health recommendations,” she told Healthline.
“I’m really worried about how long this could continue to drag out because of these really entrenched beliefs now,” Liu added.
“But I hope there is some margin there. I hope there is some percentage of people in different places who will change their behavior, who are not so entrenched, who will hear consistent messaging and take that to heart,” she said.
Clear public health messaging, experts say, is crucial in securing cooperation from the public.
“The messaging has really changed throughout the pandemic and it’s been very confusing, so I think what this is, is an opportunity to reset communication of optimal prevention strategies. Masking for the first 100 days is kind of catchy and may be useful,” Dr. Dean Blumberg, head of pediatric infectious disease at the University of California, Davis, told Healthline.
“What I’m hoping is maybe if we do focus on masks and maybe not focus on all these other complicated rules, maybe that will be simpler, maybe that will be a more effective communication tool,” he added.
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