Coronavirus

Brigham and Women’s doctor urges Biden administration to push forward on better masks to fight COVID-19

“I am very hopeful that this administration will get it done.”

Blake Nissen / The Boston Globe, File

Dr. Abraar Karan is continuing his calls for higher quality masks to be made widely available for the public to better protect against COVID-19.

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Karan, a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has been pushing for a national high-filtration mask program in the United States that would see the distribution of medical masks like N95s to households across the country. The doctor says more efficient masks are an important means of preventing the spread of COVID-19, particularly as a more infectious variant of the virus becomes prevalent.

On Wednesday, Karan directed his message at newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden and his administration.

“We are counting on you— I am very hopeful that this administration will get it done,” Karan wrote on Twitter. “Get #BetterMasks to this country. We will benefit against #covid19; against other respiratory pathogens like seasonal flu; against bioterror threats.”

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The doctor pointed to European countries that are making the switch to more effective masks, citing the increasing infections from the strain of the virus B117, which was first detected in the United Kingdom and is believed to spread more easily. Germany on Tuesday made it mandatory for people riding public transit or in other public places to wear medical-style masks like N95s or surgical masks.

For months, health officials have underscored the importance of wearing masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

On Tuesday, researchers shared the results of a survey on the impact of mask-wearing behaviors in more than 300,000 Americans, publishing the study in “The Lancet.”

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John Brownstein, an infectious disease epidemiologist and chief innovations officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and one of the authors of the study, wrote that he and his colleagues found that a 10 percent increase in self-reported use of masks in a community was associated with more than three-fold better odds of reducing the rate of virus transmission.

“Mask mandates alone were not sufficient to increase mask wearing,” Brownstein wrote on Twitter. “Mask wearing layered with social distancing yielded highest probability of transmission control.”

Karan hailed the new research for its importance in illustrating that “masks work.”

A mask makes an individual a “dead end” for the virus, especially if it’s a mask with “excellent protection,” Karan wrote.

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Medical grade masks, in particular those that provide higher filtration and better fit, are “undeniably needed,” the doctor said.

“If you have [the virus], you’ll be much less likely to transmit it; if you’re around it, much less likely you will get it,” he said. “And as we eventually tweak our vaccines in the future to adapt to new variants & strains, our backstop measures will continue to be masks. We need to make sure we get the absolute best ones we can. This is our health. There should be no compromises here!”

In the hours after his inauguration, Biden took a number of immediate actions to address the COVID-19 pandemic including requiring the use of masks and social distancing on federal property. On Thursday, the president is expected to sign a mask order that would apply to airports, planes, ships, intercity buses, trains, and public transportation.

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Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. 

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