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The exchange happened during an interview on CNN over the weekend when host Michael Smerconish brought up an analysis released in January by The Cochrane Institute. He also pointed to an opinion piece from Bret Stephens in The New York Times that quoted Oxford epidemiologist and lead author of the study, Tom Jefferson, telling journalist Maryanne Demasi there was a lack of evidence underpinning the effectiveness of masks and saying mask mandates were based on “flawed” studies.
“Yeah but there are other studies,” Fauci replied, stressing that other reviews focus on the individual level.
“When you’re talking about the effect on the epidemic or the pandemic as a whole, the data are less strong,” Fauci said. “But when you talk about as an individual basis of someone protecting themselves or protecting themselves from spreading it to others, there’s no doubt that there’s many studies that show that there is an advantage.”
“When you [look] at the broad population level like the Cochrane study, the data are less firm with regard to the effect on the overall pandemic,” Fauci added. “But we’re not talking about that, we’re talking about an individual’s effect on their own safety. That’s a bit different than the broad population level.”
The Cochrane study made the rounds earlier this year, leading to headlines saying that face masks made “little to no difference” in preventing the spread of COVID after a wave of mask guidelines and mandates during the pandemic.
That led Karla Soares-Weiser, editor-in-chief of the Cochrane Library, to respond with a statement in March saying it was an “inaccurate and misleading interpretation” to claim that the study found that “masks don’t work.”
Fauci, a longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and former chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, also said he was concerned that people would not adhere to health recommendations during an uptick in COVID cases and the emergence of a new variant.
“I would hope that if in fact we get to the point that the volume of cases is such and organizations like the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommend — CDC does not mandate anything — recommends that people wear masks, I would hope that they abide by the recommendation and take into account the risks to themselves and to their families.”