Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the United States could have the COVID-19 outbreak under control in a month or two if everyone wears a face mask in public, according to Business Insider.
Some states have required residents to wear masks in public, but the federal government has only advised, but not required people to do so since April 3. Even without a federal mandate, however, Redfield said he believes face masks are a key to success against the novel coronavirus.
"The data is clearly there that masking works," Redfield said Tuesday. "If we can get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really do think in the next four, six, eight weeks...we can get this epidemic under control."
One example supporting the effectiveness of face masks is the Missouri hairstylists who were infected while treating 140 clients. They wore face masks based on salon policy, and none of the clients were infected.
The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, known for its COVID-19 projection models that often produced inconsistent results, has projected that universal masking could save 45,000 lives over the next four months, and could prevent the need for more lockdowns.
"Mask mandates delay the need for re-imposing closures of businesses and have huge economic benefits," IHME director Christopher Murray said in a statement. "Moreover, those who refuse masks are putting their lives, their families, their friends, and their communities at risk."
There is some reason to doubt whether face masks are truly the thing that will stop COVID-19, however. Hong Kong had nearly universal masking voluntary masking. From Vox:
But almost as soon as the outbreak first began in the city, millions of residents started wearing masks in public. One local told the Los Angeles Times that the government didn't have to say anything before 99 percent of the population put them on.
Hong Kong is now implementing strict lockdown policies as it deals with a third wave of the virus.
Some research has shown masks, especially cloth face coverings, to be ineffective as well. From the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy:
Our review of relevant studies indicates that cloth masks will be ineffective at preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission, whether worn as source control or as PPE.
Surgical masks likely have some utility as source control (meaning the wearer limits virus dispersal to another person) from a symptomatic patient in a healthcare setting to stop the spread of large cough particles and limit the lateral dispersion of cough particles. They may also have very limited utility as source control or PPE in households.