Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former White House chief medical adviser, expressed his concern that Americans might not adhere to future recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on mask-wearing, as debate over COVID-19 mitigation strategies has reignited due to a rise in cases.
“I am concerned that people will not abide by recommendations,” Fauci said during an appearance on CNN. “I would hope that if we get to the point that the volume of cases is such and organizations like the CDC recommend—the CDC does not mandate anything—that people wear masks, I would hope that people abide by that recommendation and take into account the risks to themselves and their families.”
Fauci also addressed a study from earlier this year that claimed mask-wearing is ineffective, stating it was misleading. “When you’re talking about the effect on the pandemic as a whole, the data is less strong,” he said. “But when you talk about an individual basis of someone protecting themselves… There’s no doubt that there’s many studies that show that there is an advantage [to masks].”
The study Fauci referred to, published by Cochrane Library, reviewed 78 randomized trials studying the effectiveness of physical interventions in lessening the spread of respiratory viruses. The review found “little to no” evidence that large-scale masking efforts were effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
However, some experts have disputed the review’s conclusion, suggesting it overlooks the individual benefits of wearing masks, rather than community-wide benefits.
Fauci’s comments come as the CDC recorded a 19 percent increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and an 18 percent increase in deaths in the last week. Several public-health experts have started to advocate for a return to mask-wearing, despite the country having more tools to combat the virus than when it first began spreading widely in 2020.
University of Texas epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina told PBS Newshour, “You should be wearing masks in crowded areas, especially during a surge.” She even suggested people should mask at home “if you want to reduce household transmission.”
Several companies, hospitals, and colleges have reinstated mask policies recently. Among them are Morris Brown College, hospitals associated with Syracuse University, and Hollywood studio Lionsgate.
Despite his advocacy for mask-wearing, Fauci has faced criticism for his changing stance on the effectiveness of masks and support for vaccine mandates. He initially hesitated on masks in March 2020, explaining that public health officials were trying to preserve masks for front-line workers. However, he later advocated for mask-wearing in schools despite concerns about the long-term impact on children.