Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer and Peabody award-winning journalist and founder of the Anthropos Initiative, was the keynote speaker at the National Academy of Medicine in December of 2018. In addition, she previously worked as the senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. Her topic was the history of pandemics and the possibility for a future pandemic and was titled, “From the 1918 Influenza Pandemic to 2009 H1N1 Pandemic to Now: Is the World Ready to Respond to the Next Outbreak?”
Laurie flies through her presentations with fast PowerPoint slides and gives a lot of data very quickly, but of note was her discussion and follow-up on masks. She explained that the main efficacy of masking is that you stay away from each other due to fear. The mask itself presents a warning sign that causes alarm in the people.
“It seemed like the major efficacy of a mask is that it causes alarm in the other person, and so you stay away from each other.”
In the Q&A session afterwards, Laurie Garrett said:
“There’s only a couple of countries that have ever really done large-scale studies to try and figure out what might work. Japan, it may not surprise you, is one of them. And they in one of their large studies, they basically showed that the masks … it seemed like the major efficacy of a mask is that it causes alarm in the other person, and so you stay away from each other. And that’s what I think happened with SARS. When I was in the SARS epidemic I saw everywhere, all over Asia, people started wearing these masks, and it is alarming when you walk down the street and everybody coming towards you has a mask on. You definitely do social distancing … you definitely. It’s just a gut thing, but did the mask really help them? Did the mask keep the virus out? Almost certainly not. If the virus was in there around their face, the mask would not have made the difference. So, I think this is an area that’s always been under-researched, under-funded. It’s not a sexy area, and it’s not an area that results in product development that somebody sees as highly lucrative. So, I mean if you put that Purell stuff on your hand all day long, is it really doing anything for you? Is it really and … would it protect you from influenza? You know, I’m not the one to say what you should do. I’m not a licensed physician, so I cannot give you medical advice, but what I will say is that I think we are … this is an area that needs a great deal more attention.”
Laurie’s speech, queued up to mask discussion
“It’s just a gut thing, but did the mask really help them? Did the mask keep the virus out? Almost certainly not. If the virus was in there around their face, the mask would not have made the difference.”