An email Dr. Anthony Fauci sent in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic is reinvigorating outrage about face masks. In the email, first obtained by the Washington Post and BuzzFeed News via public records requests, Fauci said that masks “are not really effective” at keeping out COVID-19.
The longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases wrote, “Masks are really for infected people to prevent them from spreading infection to people who are not infected rather than protecting uninfected people from acquiring infection.”
Dr. Fauci added that a “typical mask you buy in the drug store” doesn’t really keep the virus out, because the particles pass through the material, but said it might “provide some slight benefit … if someone coughs or sneezes on you.”
“I do not recommend that you wear a mask, particularly since you are going to a very low risk location,” he wrote to someone who asked him about masks.
The email was sent in February 2020. Dr. Fauci didn’t start recommending masks until that April, a switch for which he’s been criticized. Dr. Fauci has said part of the reason he didn’t recommend masks in the early days was based on the shortage of equipment hospitals were experiencing at the time, and because the science was still developing regarding the virus and masks’ efficacy.
Multiple studies have since confirmed that masks are effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19, though it’s also important that they are made of the proper materials and worn correctly, i.e. over the mouth and nose.
Fauci’s detractors nevertheless wasted no time pointing to this email and others, such as his exchanges with the director of China’s version of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as evidence that he has provided the public with inaccurate information and to justify his ouster.
Others suggested that the 80-year-old doctor who’s served under seven presidents should be imprisoned.
The emails’ so-called revelations are reinvigorating often partisan divisions between the anti-vaccine and anti-mask crowd, which includes many conspiracy theorists, and those who believe vaccines and masks are effective at preventing COVID-19.
Many have misrepresented the email about masks as Dr. Fauci’s final word on the subject. One Republican lawmaker went so far as to post a video of himself burning a mask.
Revelations will certainly continue from the hundreds of Dr. Fauci’s pandemic-era emails that were released on Tuesday.