A recent report from the University of Washington’s Institute of Metrology and Health Assessment found that if 95% of Americans were to wear a mask, we would have a chance of achieving the same level of protection by 1 January 2010. March could save almost 70,000 lives that would otherwise have been lost by Covid-19. Additional studies have shown that wearing face masks reduces the spread of Covid-19. But while the number of infections is increasing in all 50 states, only 34 states and D.C. need public coverage. In cities and districts with camouflage mandates the number of Kovid 19 cases decreases compared to municipalities without such a regulation. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seven studies confirmed a significant decrease in coronavirus infections in communities following the introduction of generic camouflage orders.
While the United States was facing a Kovid-19 tsunami that predicted 2,200 deaths per day by mid-January, a national stealth mandate as part of a federal strategy to prevent further spread of the virus should have taken place much earlier.
President-elect Joe Biden has made the implementation of this important public health activity a top priority. It would encourage governors to issue covert orders in their states and it would ask local authorities to support these measures and make them mandatory in their communities.
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This is an important start, because the conflicting messages from politicians about whether or not to wear a mask have confused public opinion. In addition, the increasing fatigue of the Covid-19 pandemic may reduce the likelihood of wearing masks.
We also urgently need a national certification and labelling programme for masks to provide people with information that can help them choose facial protection.
A large number of face masks on the market – from fabric masks to cervical gaiters and N95 – have surprised many people about the kind of protection they should use. Each mask is better than no mask, but N95DECON researchers found that the level of protection varies depending on the type of fabric and the brands that look similar.
When the CDC recently updated its manual to emphasize that wearing a mask has the double benefit of protecting both the user and others, it also stressed the need for further research to determine which materials are best blocked and filtered by the virus.
The CDC Directive, which states that masks should consist of at least two layers of washable and breathable fabric that completely cover the nose and mouth, are fastened under the chin and fit well over the face, is useful, but for the general public we need to raise the bar.
We would never dream of sending the soldiers of our country into battle without helmets, armour and modern weapons. In this fight against Covid-19, all Americans need the best personal protection to fight back.
Consumers need a classification system that is easy to use: As the United States prescribes the contents and labelling of tobacco and food packaging, masks should be designed based on the percentage of virus particles filtered through the mask.
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MIT’s Lincoln Laboratories have already conducted tests to determine the percentage of virus particles in N95 and KN95 masks that are not certified by U.S. authorities or produced abroad. Further research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of different materials for consumer masks using a standard method, so that the results can be compared. In addition to the labelling of the packaging, the instructions for certain masks should include warnings on the use of non-regulated materials where the spillage of particles that may pose a respiratory hazard may occur.
The scientific community should lead a national certification process in which accredited laboratories should verify the breathability, airflow resistance and safety of the materials used and set up an effectiveness evaluation system. Manufacturers and the competent public authority should jointly develop design, labelling and user guidance standards that reflect the latest public health guidelines. Such a system would allow consumers to buy masks based on a scientific evaluation of their work and would give Americans more confidence that they have a work tool when they return to their workplace, school or community meetings.
Government agencies or industry groups generally assess the safety and quality of a wide range of products. Currently, the masks used in the workplace are the responsibility of the National Occupational Safety and Health Institute of the CDC, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspects the masks used in health care. Responsibility for the development and implementation of standards for masks for the general public should be assigned to the competent public authority.
At the same time, the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) industry is developing uniform standards for masks with recommendations for the general public. For example, ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, develops voluntary standards for manufacturers of various products, guidelines for the design and performance of masks. Their specifications relate to the design of the mask, filtration efficiency and breathability, as well as the size, fit, durability and purity of the mask. A system such as consumer reports would also be very useful.
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When the new government takes office in January 2021, a presidential executive order or the leadership of the White House Coronavirus Task Force may be issued to require the wearing of masks on federal territory, as well as a review by other government agencies to determine whether wearing masks to protect people in public places is mandatory in all states.
In addition to providing clearer instructions on the use of masks, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should develop and fund a major education campaign to explain the benefits of wearing and using masks properly. Celebrities, athletes and community leaders can participate in public announcements that demonstrate the importance of wearing a mask as a role model.
While it may be difficult to obtain a universal stealth mandate, even small steps towards a unified takeover can help my country go from danger to progress in controlling virus transmission.
Economic analysis conducted by Goldman Sachs Research has shown that a 15% increase in universal panels can avoid the need for locks and reduce the losses associated with $1 trillion, or about 5% of US gross domestic product. As Americans, wearing a mask can be a collective action to fight this deadly disease while paving the way for economic recovery.
Public health measures in response to other major public health concerns, such as requirements for safety belts to prevent car accidents, food labelling and warnings for tobacco, and rules on smoking in public places, were introduced earlier and are now generally accepted social standards. Wearing masks should follow the examples below. In case of non-compliance, fines or other sanctions can be considered as enforcement mechanisms. But considerations of fairness should be paramount when high quality masks are available to all.
Until safe and effective vaccines and therapies are developed and widely available, and until the Covida 19 pandemic has worsened significantly in the United States, the wearing of masks, combined with social detachment and good hygiene, must be woven into the fabric of our daily lives. The introduction of a national system of certification and labelling of the effectiveness of masks, information on their ability to prevent infection and mandatory use are essential elements for the protection of individuals and communities from the spread of viruses in the fight against this pandemic in the United States.
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