To the editor — I am a fourth-year student doctor at the University of Washington. In response to the article discussing mandating cloth masks, I felt it necessary to share that cloth masks increase infection risk.
Prior to COVID-19, hospital staff seldom wore masks outside of direct patient care. This is because universal masking is unnecessary and provides a false sense of security. In 2015 a randomized trial found that rates of respiratory viral infection were significantly higher with cloth masks compared to medical masks and that 97% of particles go through cloth masks. This article also noted that cloth masks have increased moisture retention, are often reused and with poor filtration there is likely increased risk of infection.
Keep in mind the people in this research had medical training on proper mask usage. The public will likely almost immediately contaminate their mask by touching it. COVID-19 along with other bacteria and viruses will logically be able to live longer in warm and moist cloth masks; we should not be mandated to breathe through virus-infested material.
Based on medical evidence and standard hospital practices, I am strongly against cloth mask use and urge public officials to not mandate or recommend it.