That’s not an entirely fair assessment.

In February, everyone believed the virus was transmitted via contaminated hands and surfaces.

Reasons first-responders needed masks when others did not

There are several reasons first-responders and clinicians needed masks and, indeed, face shields, then, when ‘civilians’ did not:

  • Reducing risk of infection during intubation: When intubating a patient (sticking breathing and feeding tubes down their throat via their mouth or nose — such as when putting a patient on a ventilator) there is a significant risk that the patient’s saliva or vomit will spray upwards into the face of the clinician doing the intubation. This would directly transmit the virus. Effectively, the clinician’s face becomes the contaminated surface. Masks and face shields reduce the risk of the virus entering the clinician’s body through their mouth, nose or eyes.

So Fauci was quite right to save PPE for first-responders and clinicians.

Why masks aren’t much use, even now

Even now, there are several reasons why requiring people to wear masks is only minimally effective, and is a last resort behind other, more effective methods such as social distancing, testing and localized lockdowns:

  • Most people don’t wear masks correctly: Have you seen the way people wear their masks? There are the obviously wrongly worn masks: the ones left cupping someone’s chin because they forgot to bring it up over their mouth and nose after eating or drinking, the ones covering the mouth but not the nose, or, like my brother saw in Hong Kong Airport in February, the mask worn as an eye-mask while sleeping, leaving the airway completely exposed. Then there are the rest of us who wear our masks as well as we can, but usually have leaks around the sides of our cheeks or beneath our eyes. People with glasses, if your mask steams-up your glasses, you’re not wearing it right. (Though your glasses are, hopefully, acting as a second-line of defence to prevent droplets going far from your body.) Contrast this with the pictures you’ve seen of clinicians with red mask-lines where their masks have pushed so hard into their skin that the seal is airtight.

The truth is that non-medical people wearing masks is a courtesy to others in a confined space — such as a shop or office — where you are trying to reduce how much of what you breathe out, or accidentally spit, can contact other people.

Reasons the USA is in such a dire situation

Simply staying home, confining yourself to your local ‘bubble’ avoiding mixing with other people and testing early and often are the most effective actions to take. One of the main reasons that the USA is in the dire situation it is in now is because of several factors:

  • Cities didn’t lock-down early enough or hard enough: The evidence worldwide is that an early, strong, lockdown is highly effective in reducing the impact of the virus. New Zealand has eradicated the virus. Australia has had locally transmitted cases in the single-digits in most states, except Victoria where a flare-up has led to the longest lockdown in the world. (Victoria had zero deaths and zero locally transmitted cases last night, after months of battling the push numbers down. Notably, the reason Victoria flared up in the first place was because COVID-19 ripped through an apartment block where families used communal laundries, and then people from that building went to work in defiance of stay-at-home orders. That node received the virus from a family that arrived from overseas and were quarantined in a hotel. The cleaner of the room lived in the apartment building and contracted the virus before the family’s test results came back. And the building became a super-spreader node due to another resident who was an interstate truck driver. In all, 90% of cases in Victoria traced back to this incident, as well as many of the cases in New South Wales.)
    The problem was not masks. The problem was people not staying home when told to.

Based on all these factors, I think it’s disingenuous to say call Fauci a flipper. He was acting on the best advice and information he had at the time, to deal with the situation that presented itself, at the time.

Written by

I’m a writer and publisher working in Sydney, Australia and London, UK. I specialise in finance, technology, insurance, property, medicine and sustainability.

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