CORONAVIRUS

Dr Fauci emails released: what did he say about using masks?

The Chief Medical Advisor to the White House has been at the centre of the pandemic response throughout and his emails from last year have recently been made public.

Dr Fauci emails released: what did he say about using masks?
POOL REUTERS

Dr Anthony Fauci has been a key figure in the United States’ covid-19 response throughout the pandemic, for both the Trump and Biden administrations.

He became the most visible and trusted face of the medical community and recently-released emails give a new perspective on his work as the world struggled to come to terms with the scale and severity of the pandemic.

BuzzFeed News obtained more than 3,200 pages of Fauci's emails, covering from January to June 2020, through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and has made the findings public. They show him in contact with health officials, reporters and even the general public, and show how guidance fluctuated in the early months of the pandemic.

Fauci initially downplayed the importance of mask-wearing

Over the course of the last 15 months facial coverings and masks have become a fact of life for people around the world as health officials look to prevent the spread of coronavirus between peoples.

However in the early months of the pandemic the importance of mask-wearing was less important and Fauci appears to initially downplay their importance. An email exchange from February 2020 with a former US health secretary sees Fauci claim: "Masks are really for infected people to prevent them from spreading infection to people who are not infected rather than protecting uninfected people from acquiring infection."

He went on to say that typical store-bought masks, the type most commonly used, are "not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through material".

In March Fauci received correspondence from an associate who works in Chinese public health who appeared to agree with Fauci’s assessment. The official said he had been misquoted when the media ran stories alleging that he had said that Western countries were making a “big mistake” in failing to recommend universal mask use.

Concern that Americans are “misinterpreting” new mask guidance

Throughout the pandemic the health profession has been tasked with providing the most up-to-date information on a previously unknown virus, which has led to some confusion in the public message.

Last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that they were changing their advice for mask-wearing, which suggested that fully vaccinated people would no longer be required to wear masks in most circumstances.

The move was heralded by some as a return to normal for vaccinated Americans, and CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky told reporters: "We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”

However in a recent interview with Axios, Fauci said that he was concerned that many Americans are “misinterpreting” the guidance. Fauci said: “I think people are misinterpreting, thinking that this is a removal of a mask mandate for everyone. It's not.”

He added that the new guidance was "an assurance to those who are vaccinated that they can feel safe, be they outdoors or indoors."