Laurie Garrett is a Pulitzer and Peabody award-winning global health journalist who also previously worked as the senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. In the video from 2018, she says that masks “almost certainly” did not help stop the spread of SARS, a severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus.
Her comments are from her keynote speech before the National Academy of Medicine where she spoke about the history of pandemics and the possibility for a future pandemic.
At the end of the speech, she answers a question from the audience about alternate pathways of viral transmission and she specifically addresses the efficacy of masks.
“There’s only a couple of countries that have ever really done large-scale studies to try and figure out what might work. Japan, it may not surprise you, is one of them. In one of their large studies they basically showed that the masks, it seemed like the major efficacy of a mask is that it causes alarm in the other person and so you stay away from each other,” said Garrett.
“And that’s what I think happened with SARS. When I was in the SARS epidemic I saw everywhere all over Asia people started wearing these masks, and it is alarming, when you walk down the street and everyone coming toward you has a mask on, you definitely do social distancing, you definitely—it’s just a gut thing,” she continued.
“But did the mask really help them? Did the mask keep the virus out? Almost certainly not. If the virus was around their face, the mask would not have made a difference,” she concluded. “So I think this is an area that has always been under-researched, under-funded.”
She added as another example that it was not well-researched if hand sanitizer would actually help prevent the spread of influenza.
Garrett’s address from 2018 was entitled, “From the 1918 Influenza Pandemic to 2009 H1N1 Pandemic to Now: Is the World Ready to Respond to the Next Outbreak?”
In Dec. 2020, as the vaccines were first being rolled out among U.S. Americans, Garrett went on MSNBC to opine that even with the vaccine, Americans should mask up and try to maintain the social distancing guidelines.
“We are going to see a horrible explosion in cases and deaths long before the vaccine reaches mass distribution,” she predicted at the time.