Harvard professor, doctors call for everyone to wear N95 masks
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a massive toll on human life and the economy, leading public health experts are calling for what they describe as an “essential” tool for reducing infections while the vaccine gains wide distribution: better masks.
Joseph Allen, Associate Professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has been outspoken about the potential for high filtration masks, or hi-fi masks, to save the lives of essential workers, people with pre-existing conditions and others at high risk. According to Allen, research indicates that a cloth mask can only retain about half of aerosol droplets released, while an N95 mask retains 95% of droplets. Although any mask is better than no mask, a high rate of high-filtration respirator usage could significantly reduce the COVID-19 infection rate. “There’s no reason any essential worker — and, really, everyone in the country — should go without masks that filter 95 percent,” Allen said.
Patient advocate Karin Willison also believes the general public should be wearing hi-fi masks. “Cloth masks are better than nothing, but people with disabilities like me, our loved ones and caregivers need to wear respirators. It’s a matter of life and death for us.” Willison operates Pandemic Pal, a resource hub that helps people with chronic illnesses and essential workers find legitimate N95 respirators and pandemic supplies. According to Willison, many people still don’t know they can buy N95 masks and wrongly believe they are all reserved for healthcare workers. She agrees with Allen that filtering facepiece respirators are essential for reducing hospitalizations and vanquishing the virus. “N95 masks are for everyone!”
Allen’s colleagues at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Abraar Karan and Dr. Ranu Dhillon, have recommended creating a National Hi-Fi Mask Initiative in the United States. The National Hi-Fi Mask Initiative would invoke the Defense Production Act to increase the supply of N95 masks and reduce costs. President Biden has also considered mailing a mask to every American as part of his executive orders designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Willison noted that N95 masks are currently too expensive for many people in communities of color that have been devastated by the coronavirus, and supports helping the most vulnerable rather than spending money on people who can afford to purchase respirators. “We need to get hi-fi masks to those at highest risk: essential workers, home health workers, people with disabilities, and low-income seniors. It’s a key part of ending this pandemic.”