People who are worried about getting Covid can still protect themselves by wearing masks properly, like an N95 or KN95, even if no one else is nearby, Dr. Scott Gottlieb to CNBC on Wednesday.
Gottlieb’s comments come two days after a Florida federal judge annulled the Biden administration’s Covid mask mandate for public transportation, including airlines. Many mask rules for other settings have already been relaxed.
“If you have a well-fitting, high-quality mask on and you wear it well, you will give yourself a high level of protection,” the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner said at Squawk Box. “One-way masking works,” he added.
“So people who feel vulnerable if they continue to do so will be able to protect themselves in that environment even if other people are not wearing masks,” argued Gottlieb, who now sits on the board of the Covid vaccine manufacturer. Pfizer.
In response to the Florida ruling, the Transportation Security Administration indicated it would not enforce pandemic policy; major US airlines also said they would no longer require masks.
The Justice Department on Tuesday signaled that it is likely to appeal the ruling of U.S. Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2020.
The end of the public transport mask requirement has been met with relief by some and concern by others, especially people who have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe Covid disease.
While many mitigation measures for public health for places such as sports venues and restaurants have been completed, supporters of the public transport mask mandate note that some people have no choice but to commute by train and bus. For this reason, they believe that the policy is an important layer of protection against Covid, especially in the light of more transferable variants.
Gottlieb said he believes the Center for Disease Control and Prevention should have let the mask mandate expire on Monday, instead of last week deciding to extend the policy until May 3. However, he acknowledged that people “will be made to feel vulnerable by this policy … especially children under the age of 5 who have health problems and cannot be vaccinated” and immunocompromised.
At the same time, Gottlieb said he believes “the masks probably provided much less protection than people assume because most wore fabric masks,” not the very protective N95s and KN95s.
“For people who feel in danger, I would argue that one-way masking still works,” repeated Gottlieb, who headed the FDA from 2017 to 2019 in the Trump administration. He again stressed the need for it to be a high quality mask. “I still want to wear a mask in certain occasions where I feel like I’m in a confined space and there are a lot of people around where I’m in environments where [Covid] the prevalence is higher, “he added.