Three physicians have written an open letter to President-elect Joe Biden‘s incoming administration to implement a mask initiative upon taking office.
The group, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard – as well as a founder of YouTube educational channel – says that while cloth and surgical masks offer some protection against COVID-19, high filtration (hi-fi) masks such as N95s are more effective at preventing wears from inhaling tiny infectious droplets.
First published on STAT News on Thursday, the letter begs the incoming team to produce and distribute these hi-fi masks to home across the U.S.
It comes as a more cases of an infectious variant of the coronavirus, called B.1.1.7 and first identified in the UK, are identified across the nation and the vaccine rollout continues to be very slow.
Physicians from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard and the founder of a YouTube educational channel wrote a letter to the Biden administration. Pictured: Biden removes his facemask as he arrives to deliver remarks on the Electoral College certification at the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, December 2020
The group called for an initiative for N95 masks (above) to be mass produced and fir a set of masks to be mailed to each U.S. household every month
N95 masks, considered the ‘gold standard’, are meant to fit much more closely to the face than surgical masks and are designed to filter airborne particles.
The ‘N95’ number means that during tests, the respirator blocked at least 95 percent of very small (0.3 micron) test particles.
Most of these coverings are manufactured for use in fields such as construction, where workers may be exposed to dust and small particles.
By comparison, surgical and cloth masks are loose-fitting and and can protect against splashes and large-particle droplets.
However, they do not ‘filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs, sneezes or certain medical procedures,’ according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The authors of the letter, Drs Abraar Karan and Ranu Dhillon as well as Devabhaktuni Srikrishna, founder of channel Patient Knowhow, say N95s have protected them against the virus when interacting with infected patients.
‘While most masks provide some level of protection for the wearers and those around them, many masks…only partially filter the small Covid-19-spreading particles known as aerosols,’ the group wrote.
Aerosols are emitted when people cough, sneeze, breathe or speak and are very tiny particles, measuring less than five micrometers, which is smaller than a particle of pollen.
These aerosols can be inhaled, and if enough are, have the ability to cause infection.
The group notes that numerous studies have shown that N95 masks offer the best protection against these small particles.
‘As the country awaits the scale up of population immunity through vaccination, we need a National Hi-Fi Mask Initiative,’ they wrote.
The goal of the initiative would be invoke the Defense Production Act ‘to churn out’ N95 masks and send them to every home in the county.
‘Ideally, a set of masks would be mailed to each US household every month – thee costs of doing so pale in comparison to the pandemic’s toll on lives and the economy,’ they continued.
‘The use of such masks would, in combination with other risk-reduction strategies, create safer workplaces for essential workers, many who are not currently prioritized to get early vaccinations.’
Public health experts say it is more critical now than ever before that the general population wear masks due to the newly discovered variant.
B.1.1.7 – which was first detected in the UK – has now infected at least 52 people in seven states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but officials say it may be even more widespread.
Additionally, the national vaccine rollout has been much slower than expected with only 5.3 million people across the U.S. receiving their first dose of either Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccine, according to the CDC tracker.
That figure is well short of the 20 million people the Trump administration had hoped to immunized by New Year’s Eve – and most people are not expected to get their first dose until the spring or summer.
‘Measures such as wearing masks, hand hygiene, social distancing, and strategic testing of people who are not ill will be foundational to slowing the spread of COVID-19 until safe and effective vaccines are available and widely used,’ CDC authors wrote in a recent study.