AUGUST 11, 2021
Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, speaking about the importance of utilizing high quality masks with Erica Hill on "CNN Newsroom with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto":
Erica Hill: “So, what’s the real story on masks? What works, what doesn’t, especially for kids in schools?”
Dr. Michael Osterholm: “Well, in fact, it is confusing for the public, and I understand why, because in this business today, you cannot nuance anything. It’s either left or right, or it’s either blue or red, it’s either yes or no, and in fact science isn’t that way. A year ago last April, we put out a statement from our center, as well as others being involved with it, that basically pointed out that this virus is an aerosol. It’s transmitted in the air, just like we see with cigarette smoke. If you’re in a room and you have a covering on your face and you can smell the smoke, then you know you’re also getting virus in there, if in fact you had an infected person in there.
We know that face cloth coverings can reduce the amount of virus that you may inhale, but to be fully protected in the way that we believe, in particular with this variant that we have today - Delta - you need to have the kind of protection that comes with an N-95 or a KN-95 for kids, which are available in children’s sizes, and just putting something over your face doesn’t protect you. That doesn’t give anybody license to take my statement and say masking doesn’t work. It’s what you have to do is use effective masking, and we’ve done a poor job of communicating that, and I think CDC is in part responsible for that. They for many months did not come to the point of realizing that aerosols were a very important part of the transmission, and as such, their messaging has portrayed that, and we need to let people know that’s not the case.”
Erica Hill: “So you’re saying, best option: N-95, a KN-95. For some kids, as you likely know, maybe that can be tough. Maybe it’s tough to wear all day. CDC, as we check out this morning, still recommending a 2-ply cloth breathable face mask - worn properly - as an option. A lot of people, myself included, use the disposable one that we order online in bulk. Those are still - if I’m hearing you correctly - those are still somewhat effective at preventing transmission. They’re just not as good as we know as those N-95 masks. So are those still a good option, for example, for kids in schools and staff in schools?”
Dr. Michael Osterholm: “Well, this is where it’s hard. No matter who - listening to this interview - some are going to want to skewer me for playing into the hands of those who are anti-masking. Those who are saying, ‘you know, be truthful and tell us really how the masks really work’, the bottom line is nuanced. I mean, for example, there is a group of industrial hygienists - people who really study how to protect ourselves from airborne chemicals or infectious agents, and they determined that based on the CDC’s data, that an infectious dose can occur in 15 minutes in a room, meaning there’s enough virus in a room for me to breathe in, just like with cigarette smoke, where I’d get infected. They did the work along with actually data from NIOSH, a part of the CDC, that showed if you wear a face cloth covering, you can get about 5 additional minutes of protection in that room. If you wear a surgical mask, you get about 10 minutes of protection. If you wear an N-95 respirator - not fitted - you get about 2.5 hours of protection. Additionally, if you wear an N-95 that’s tightly face fitted, you may get up to 25 hours of protection. Now, you tell me how you wanna parse that out? I can tell you, if you were driving an old car and it only had an old, common seat belt in it - wear it. But if you had a modern car that had a body harness, that basically had air bags, had a collision conducive body to it, that had shard glass, that had a computer program on board to reduce impact - brake you before you hit something - I’d tell you to get that one, but I’d never tell you not to wear a seatbelt…Concentrate on (vaccination for everybody first), and use the masking as a backup, and then when you do use it, get the best you can.”