The worst days of the pandemic saw basic health precautions such as social distancing and wearing a face mask become part of everyday life. And while a sharp drop in cases led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to change their guidelines on wearing a mask in public months ago, a recent national spike in cases has some officials urging citizens to cover up their faces once again. But according to one expert, you'll need a certain type of mask if you're looking to fully protect yourself against the highly contagious Delta variant.
During an appearance on CBS' Face the Nation on July 25, Scott Gottlieb, MD, former Food&Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, explained that while the latest strain of COVID-19 may be more transmissible, the familiar tactic of using a face covering can still be incredibly effective at stopping its spread. But when it comes to getting the most protection, he suggests opting for a higher quality, medical-grade mask.
"It's not more airborne, and it's not more likely to be permeable to a mask. So a mask can still be helpful," Gottlieb told host John Dickerson. "I think, though, if you're going to consider wearing a mask, the quality of the mask does matter. So if you can get your hands on a KN95 mask or an N95 mask, that's going to afford you a lot more protection."
Gottlieb pointed out that the once-scarce pieces of PPE are now readily available, making them a superior option for anyone looking to protect themselves from the Delta variant. "Initially, at the outset of this epidemic, we were encouraging people not to use N95 masks because there weren't enough of those masks for medical workers," he explained.
"Now, there's plenty of masks. There's plenty of N95 masks in the system. The Biden administration has done a good job ramping up supply. There's also KN95 masks available. So I would encourage people to look at the quality of the mask and try to get their hands on a better quality of mask," he suggested.
The recommendation comes as local health departments around the U.S. have begun to revive mask mandates and recommendations for all people in public, including those who are vaccinated. Officials such as Anthony Fauci, MD, chief White House COVID adviser, heralded the decisions, saying that the protective measures weren't contradictory to the CDC's guidance as cases are "going in the wrong direction."
"We're seeing that in LA. We're seeing that in Chicago. We're seeing that in New Orleans," Fauci said during a July 25 appearance on CNN's State of the Union. "The officials there, many of them are saying even if you are vaccinated, it's prudent to wear a mask indoors."
Other experts also threw their support behind the idea of covering your face amid the latest surge. "If you're out in public, if you're around people who you don't know whether they're vaccinated or not, and especially if you're in a community where prevalence is going up … it is probably going to be safest for you to mask it whether or not you're vaccinated or not," former Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, said later the same day on Face the Nation.
Adams even went so far as to suggest that the CDC should update its guidance to say that vaccinated people should once again be wearing face coverings indoors. "Your public health officials who don't have a good way of knowing, or your businesses who don't have a good way of knowing who's vaccinated or not, they're going to find that they have no other choice but to call on more people to mask it. And the CDC needs to give those businesses, those health officials, a little bit of cover by clarifying the guidance that they have out there."