Editor’s Note: Rear Admiral Susan Blumenthal, MD, MPA (ret) served as US Assistant Surgeon General, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, and a White House Health Advisor. She is the Senior Policy and Medical Advisor at amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, senior fellow in health policy at New America, clinical professor at Tufts and Georgetown University Schools of Medicine and a visiting professor at the MIT Media Lab. Emily Stark is a research associate in health policy at New America. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. Read more opinion articles on CNN.
What over eight months of navigating the novel coronavirus pandemic has taught us is that a mask is one of the most valuable tools currently available to mitigate the spread of the virus.
A recent report produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington found that if 95% of Americans wore masks, we could save nearly 70,000 lives that would otherwise be lost to Covid-19 by March 1. Additional research has shown that wearing face masks reduces the spread of Covid-19. But while infection rates are rising in all 50 states, only 34 states and the District of Columbia require face covering in public. In cities and counties with masking mandates, Covid-19 cases have tended to decline compared to municipalities without such rules. Indeed, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seven studies have confirmed significant declines in coronavirus infections in communities after universal masking orders were implemented.
Yet, more than 30% of the US population does not use them on a daily basis, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
As the United States faces a tsunami of Covid-19 infections, with 2,200 daily deaths projected by mid-January, a national masking mandate is long overdue as part of a federal strategy to prevent further spread of the virus.
President-elect Joe Biden has made implementing this critical public health intervention a top priority. He will call on governors to enact masking orders in their states and ask local authorities to buttress these actions by making them mandatory in their municipalities.