Lisa Brosseau, ScD, is a nationally recognized expert on infectious diseases. Brousseau taught for many years at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She may be retired from the university, but she’s not retired from teaching. She recently cowrote an opinion piecethat drew a lot of notice: In it Brousseau argues that cloth masks offer no protection from COVID-19. As one might imagine, it drew a lot of attention and caused a fair amount of controversy. She recently sat down with Infection Control Today®to talk about her strong feelings about cloth masks and that data she used to reach her conclusions.
Infection Control Today®: What made you decide to write the piece?
Lisa Brosseau: The article started out with the goal of trying to look at the literature related to cloth masks in healthcare. And then it got expanded way beyond that to cloth masks and surgical masks and respirators for healthcare and for the community. It was much more comprehensive than I expected it to be. Took me a little longer to write but at the end of the day, I was looking at cloth masks and surgical masks and respirators from several points of view. First of all, for healthcare and community, but also do they work as source control? Or do they work as personal protective equipment? Or both? And at the end of the day, cloth masks in my opinion don’t work in any form. They aren’t very good at source control, except for maybe very large particles. And they should not be used in healthcare settings for a number of reasons. Surgical masks, I decided, based on the literature, might have a role as source control for people who have symptoms. Say if they’re staying home and they have some symptoms. They shouldn’t be something you’d wear if you have symptoms going out into the public because you shouldn’t be going out into the public service. But it’s a good option for patients to wear in healthcare settings where they-especially for those who are experiencing symptoms-to what I would call diminish the viral load. Basically, decrease the amount of particles, infectious particles in the air in a healthcare setting. So, at the end of the day, the only thing that provides personal protection for the person wearing the mask is a respirator. And that is the thing that healthcare workers should be wearing. Particularly if we’re worried about the small aerosols, small particles that people will generate when they’re infectious. And in fact, people generate particles, whether they’re infectious or not. But particularly when they’re infected and infectious, that will be present in the vicinity of a patient. The best protection in that case is for the healthcare worker to wear a respirator. And I’ve got asked a little bit to think about respirators for the community. You know, if we had a lot of respirators, that might be a good idea, but we don’t have very many of them. And so, for the purposes of saving those respirators for the people who really need them, I recommended that the public not be wearing respirators and not be buying respirators. And if they had them, please donate them even to healthcare workers. That’s a good summary. CONTINUE READING