Coronavirus

Boston doctors call for national hi-fi mask distribution program to prevent COVID-19 spread

“As vaccines roll out over this year, we cannot afford continued spread as it is happening … better masks are central.”

FILE -- An N95 mask hangs from the rearview mirror of a car in Brooklyn on April 7, 2020. Hospital contracts for N95 masks created problems in the supply chain. (Demetrius Freeman/The New York Times) Demetrius Freeman / The New York Times, File

Doctors at Brigham and Women’s Hospital are pressing for a national initiative to distribute high-filtration masks, such as N95s, to every household in the United States to prevent the out-of-control spread of COVID-19 that is claiming thousands of lives daily. 

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Dr. Abraar Karan and Dr. Ranu Dhillon laid out the case for a National Hi-Fi Mask Initiative in an op-ed in STAT on Thursday, co-authored with Devabhaktuni Srikrishna, founder of Patient Knowhow.

“More and better masks can help get us to that point with fewer infections and deaths,” the doctors wrote. “With validated designs already on the market, mass production of hi-fi masks could be done relatively quickly.”

Hi-fi masks are the best protection against the small particles that spread the virus, the doctors wrote. Reducing the spread of the virus by protecting against those droplets is essential as the nation waits for the general population to get vaccinated, they said.  

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“Ideally, a set of masks would be mailed to each U.S. household every month — the costs of doing so pale in comparison to the pandemic’s toll on lives and the economy,” they wrote in the op-ed. “The use of such masks would, in combination with other risk-reduction strategies, create safer workspaces for essential workers, many who are not currently prioritized to get early vaccinations. Since the pandemic began, surgical and cloth masks have become widely available at pharmacies, grocery stores, hardware stories, online, and elsewhere. Hi-fi masks should also be made ubiquitously available through these same venues, some of which are already coordinating with the federal government to roll out COVID-19 vaccines.”

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On Twitter, Karan explained that Americans could then use the masks any time they were outside their homes in indoor spaces. 

“As the pandemic surges, most of the cases I am now seeing in the hospital do not know where or how they were infected,” he wrote. “A number of them report wearing cloth masks regularly, and this is much better than no mask, but we know that not all masks are created equal. N95 masks that healthcare workers like myself use in the hospital offer the best protection.”

Ten months into the pandemic, many people have been unable to obtain N95s on their own and many health care workers still do not have adequate supplies of the protective equipment, the doctor wrote. 

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“Better masks should be a serious priority here,” Karan said, stressing that the equipment focuses on stopping the way the virus transmits and, unlike vaccines, isn’t tied specifically to a variant.  

Ensuring everyone has access to more protective masks is another way of protecting against the new variant of COVID-19, which experts believe is more easily spread. 

“As vaccines roll out over this year, we cannot afford continued spread as it is happening,” Karan said. “We cannot rely on incremental policy changes with exponential viral growth. We need to do everything we can do urgently — better masks are central.” 

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