A top public health official on Wednesday delivered perhaps the most compelling reason yet for wearing a face mask, saying it may be more effective in protecting against the coronavirus than even a vaccine.
Speaking at a Senate hearing on U.S. response to the virus, Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, said this:
“These face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have. These actually – we have clear scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defense. I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine. Because the immunogenicity may be 70%. And if I don’t get an immune response, the vaccine is not going to protect me. This face mask will.”
His comments came one day after President Trump, appearing on a televised town hall on ABC, was asked by an audience member why he did not support a national mask mandate and why he was rarely seen wearing a mask himself. Trump gave a lengthy response, which included references to restaurant staff touching their masks and ended with him saying: "There are people that don’t think masks are good."
His presidential rival, Democrat and former Vice President Joe Biden, in a speech on Wednesday said that despite nearly 200,000 deaths from the virus in the U.S., Trump “still doesn’t have a plan to bring us out of this crisis” and added:
“He even said, and I quote, ‘A lot of people said that masks are not good’ – undercutting the easiest, most effective means we have for reducing the spread of this disease.”
Trump has also repeatedly stressed the speed with which a vaccine is being developed, telling Fox News on Tuesday, “We’re going to have a vaccine in a number of weeks, it could be 4 weeks.”
When asked point blank at the hearing Wednesday when a vaccine would be ready, the CDC’s Dr. Redfield gave a more sober timeline.
“If you’re asking me, ‘When is it going to be generally available to the American public, so we can begin to take advantage of the vaccine to get back to our regular life,' I think we’re probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter, 2021.”
Later at a press conference at the White House, Trump pushed back, saying Redfield had made a mistake and insisted that 100 million doses of the vaccine will be ready before the end of the year.