Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday that individuals who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 “may want to go the extra mile” and wear masks to give both themselves and vulnerable people in their households an added layer of protection.
Fauci, who serves as White House advisor and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made the remarks in a July 19 interview on PBS’s “News Hour,” during which he addressed the rise in new cases in the United States and the threat posed by the Delta variant.
“In some regions of the country, up to 90 percent of the variants are the Delta variant,” Fauci said. “So it has already shown its incredible ability to be able to efficiently transmit from person to person, which makes it very dangerous.”
He said unvaccinated people are “considerably vulnerable” under the current circumstances, before making a reference to statistics showing that “99.5 percent of the COVID deaths are among unvaccinated people.” Fauci appeared to be referring to recent remarks made by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who said earlier this month that data reviewed by the agency suggests that 99.5 percent of the people who died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus in the past six months were among unvaccinated people.
Fauci then made reference to CDC guidelines on mask wearing, saying that, “if you are vaccinated, you don’t need to wear a mask outdoors or indoors. But there is a big however with that. And the however is, you should also pay attention to what is going on in the area where you are living.”
“So, if you live in an area where you have a high dynamic of infection—and that’s usually in an area where there is a low level of vaccination—if you happen to live in that area, you may want to go the extra mile and get the extra degree of protection of wearing a mask, even though you are vaccinated,” he said.
Another example Fauci gave was households with vulnerable people, “like the elderly or people who have underlying conditions, you might want to make sure you take that extra step of protection,” adding that fully vaccinated people under such circumstances may “want to go the extra mile” to protect themselves and fellow household members.
There are dozens of circumstantial studies suggesting that masks work to stem the spread of the CCP virus, although there has been just one randomized-control trial during the pandemic, carried out in Denmark. While suffering from some limitations, the study showed that people who wore masks were 18 percent less likely to be infected than those who did not.
A key reason for the lack of randomized-control studies on masks during the pandemic is on ethical grounds, with some experts saying it is impossible to run such trials without endangering participants and people they encounter out in the world.
“Randomized controlled trials are pretty much the gold standard, but they’re not always ethical,” said Mary Kathryn Grabowski, an assistant professor in epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, in remarks to PolitiFact. “We can’t just send people out without masks in the middle of a pandemic in the same way we can’t randomize people to not use a parachute when they jump out of a plane.”
Mask wearing amid the COVID-19 pandemic has become a hot button issue, with some questioning the efficacy of facial coverings and others opposing mandates on grounds of personal liberty. Advocates, on the other hand, have broadly taken a better-safe-than-sorry approach in the face of underpowered efficacy studies, while generally viewing mandates as a minor inconvenience that helps protect people who are prone to serious complications if they get infected.