A CNN analyst on Wednesday suggested that one lesson Americans may learn from the COVID-19 pandemic is that mask-wearing and social distancing should be normal every winter to reduce the spread of the flu.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week published data showing that flue cases this year reached an all-time low. In the 2019-2020 flu season, the CDC reported 195 children died of the flu, but in this 2020-2021 season, that death toll fell dramatically to just one child.
Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center in Philadelphia and a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccine Advisory Committee, was interviewed on CNN’s “New Day” to discuss the lifting of statewide mask mandates in Texas and Mississippi when he was asked about declining cases of the flu.
“That’s got to be masks, right? And the fact that people are social distancing,” CNN host Alisyn Camerota asked.
Offit said she was “exactly right” that mask-wearing and social distancing have contributed to this year’s remarkably low levels of the flu. He added that the spread of the flu has been so low this year that the FDA will have a difficult time deciding which strains of the flu people will need to vaccinate against next year.
“If we mask and social distance every winter, we will see a dramatic reduction in the flu, which usually causes hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths,” Dr. Offit said. “I wonder if that will be the lesson from this.”
Offit also criticized states lifting mask mandates, saying that about 120 million Americans need to be vaccinated before spread of COVID-19 can significantly be stopped.
“It’s very frustrating, actually, when you have the people, say, from Texas or Mississippi saying, OK, let’s open things up, because we’re still in the midst of this pandemic,” Offit told Camerota. “There’s 60,000 cases a day and 2,000 deaths a day. It’s obviously still the pandemic. And if we can just hang on for a few months and just — and mask and social distance until we get everybody vaccinated that needs to be vaccinated, we’ll — we can stop this pandemic.”
“It’s just really hard to watch us not being able to wait those few months that I think we need to wait before we can get on top of this,” he added.
Camerota agreed, giving her opinion that opening businesses and removing mask mandates “are at odds.”
“It’s the wearing of masks that allow the businesses, like the retail stores, the nail salons, the hair salons to reopen successfully. The reason that those haven’t been superspreaders, we now know, during these past months, is because everybody wears masks going into the hair salon right now,” she said.
“I agree. I think we don’t realize the power of masking,” Offit replied. “[COVID-19] is spread by small droplets. If you mask appropriately and do the best that you can to sort of physically distance, you can — that’s a powerful way — it’s as powerful as vaccine, frankly. And so while we’re waiting for the vaccine, that’s what you do. This is sort of the pre-vaccine thing to do.”
He went on to say that Texas and Mississippi are conducting a “natural experiment” to see what will happen if you end mask mandates “in the middle of a pandemic.”
“I mean, I think we already know the answer to that question. It’s just hard to believe that we still want to do that kind of experiment.”