Fauci: 'Low-Tech' Tools Are Our Best Bet For Preventing COVID-19

Woman wearing mask to prevent spread of COVID-19

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Key Takeaways

  • Public health experts say that low-tech interventions, like wearing a face mask and social distancing, are necessary to achieve normalcy as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
  • Mask-wearing continues to be a top measure not only for preventing the transmission of COVID-19, but also saving lives.
  • Experts say that to decrease the spread of COVID-19, mask-wearing should be combined with frequent, proper handwashing and social distancing.

In a new article published on October 26, Anthony Fauci, MD, and his co-authors concluded that achieving normalcy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic will require the continued use of “low-tech” interventions, such as mask-wearing and social distancing.

The article by Fauci, along with Andrea M. Lerner, MD, MS, and Gregory K. Folkers, MS, MPH, was published in the Journals of the American Medical Association.

The authors made it clear that there are preventative measures we all can, and must, take to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"As countries around the world seek to safely reopen businesses, schools, and other facets of society, mask use in the community to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, in conjunction with other low-cost, low-tech, commonsense public health practices, is and will remain critical," the article states. "Return to normalcy will require the widespread acceptance and adoption of mask-wearing and other inexpensive and effective interventions as part of the COVID-19 prevention toolbox."

While the recommendation to wear a face mask might feel like a broken record, it bears repeating, Karen Jubanyik, MD, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Yale University School of Medicine, tells Verywell.

“Low tech things like masks make sense now and in the future,” Jubanyik says. “And they make sense because we not only do we not have vaccinations and advanced therapeutics, but COVID-19, like all public health crises, is better addressed by prevention than treatment.”

Jubanyik also points out that low-tech preventative measures like face masks "will always be a part of the weaponry against COVID-19 and similar pandemics.”

A Vaccine Matters, Too

The article also noted that a “safe and effective vaccine” will be another necessary measure to control the pandemic and allow a return to normalcy and that low-tech tools that prevent the spread of COVID-19 are “essential.”

“It must be emphasized that these interventions will still be needed after a vaccine is initially available,” the authors write. “Even if one or more vaccines have high efficacy and uptake in the population, it will take at least several months for enough people to be vaccinated to confer herd immunity on a population basis.” 

What This Means For You

Even though we are getting closer to a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing. We can prevent the spread of the virus now and in the future by using basic, low-tech measures like wearing a properly fitting face mask (and keeping it clean); frequently and correctly washing your hands, and practicing social distancing.

Correct Mask-Wearing

In a study published in Nature Medicine in October, researchers noted that universal mask use—which equates to 95% mask use in public—could be sufficient to improve the worst effects of COVID-19 resurgences in the United States.

Karen Jubanyik, MD

Masks make sense because they are in the hands of everyone. Everyone can get a mask and wear it.

— Karen Jubanyik, MD

According to the study's authors, “Universal mask use could save an additional 129,574 (85,284–170,867) lives from September 22, 2020, through the end of February 2021, or an additional 95,814 (60,731–133,077) lives assuming a lesser adoption of mask-wearing (85%)."

Jubanyik points out that there are a few key standards that face masks must meet to be effective, such as how they fit.

“It is important that the mask be good fitting, especially above the nose, below the chin and at sides. It should be at least two layers thick,” Jubanyik says. “Masks make sense because they are in the hands of everyone. Everyone can get a mask and wear it. And if literally everyone wears a good-fitting mask whenever indoors or whenever not able to socially distance more than six feet when outdoors, virus transmission is reduced by 80 to 90%.”

According to a November report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), coronavirus incidence declined by 82%, hospitalization by 88%, and mortality by 100% from late April to June 2020—when mask mandates, stay-at-home orders, and contact tracing were added to case investigations.

Masks matter—from choosing the right mask to taking care of it properly, which includes cleaning and sanitizing if it's reusable.

Choosing and Wearing a Mask

“When choosing a mask, it should be made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers the mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps,” Marie Russell, MD, chief medical officer for TrueCare of North County San Diego, tells Verywell.

Once you’ve chosen a mask (not a medical mask—save those for frontline healthcare workers), make sure to wash your hands with soap and water or apply hand sanitizer before putting it on.

  1. Grab the mask by the elastic straps or ends or head straps
  2. Place the mask over your face and carefully tuck it behind your ears or tie it behind your head (be careful not to touch the front part of the mask)
  3. As you are wearing the mask, do not touch the front of the mask at all (if you need to make adjustments, do it by touching the straps or cloth around your ears or on the side or back of your face—otherwise, you risk contaminating the mask or yourself).
  4. When it's time to remove your mask, take it off by the edges or use the straps only—again, be careful not to touch the front.

Reusable masks should be washed before the next use and disposable masks should be thrown away after one wear. 

"I want to emphasize that after taking your mask off, you must wash your hands with either soap and water or use the waterless hand sanitizer," Russell says.

Frequent, Proper Handwashing

In the realm of “low-tech” measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, the importance of frequent, proper handwashing—emphasis on frequent and proper—cannot be overstated.

According to the CDC, the math is simple when it comes to washing your hands to prevent the spread of the virus. “Germs can also get onto hands if people touch any object that has germs on it because someone coughed or sneezed on it or was touched by some other contaminated object," the CDC says. "When these germs get onto hands and are not washed off, they can be passed from person to person and make people sick.”

While there’s been an uptick in people who are washing their hands frequently, they are not always doing it properly. In October, the CDC surveyed over 4,000 people about their handwashing habits. The results of the survey showed that about a quarter of Americans are not washing their hands correctly and when necessary (e.g. after sneezing or blowing their nose).

If you need a refresher on this low-tech measure, the CDC's report included simple guidelines, which are broken down by situations wherein you should always wash your hands and those that are being especially emphasized during the pandemic.

Always wash your hands:

  • After using the bathroom
  • Before and after preparing or eating food
  • After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose

During the pandemic, you should also wash your hands:

  • Before and after touching your eyes, nose, and mouth 
  • After going to a public place and touching a frequently touched surface
  • Before and after touching your mask

How to Wash Your Hands

If you're not sure that you're washing your hands the right way, CDC also provides guidelines for proper handwashing.

  1. Wet your hands with clean warm or cold water.
  2. Apply soap.
  3. Lather up. Be sure to get suds on the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  4. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  5. Rinse your hands well.
  6. Dry your hands thoroughly with a clean towel or disposable paper towel.

Social Distancing

Another important low-tech prevention measure is social distancing, also known as physical distancing. The CDC outlines what it means to practice social distancing, as well as provides examples of when it's necessary.

According to the CDC, “To practice social or physical distancing, stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from other people who are not from your household in both indoor and outdoor spaces."

The CDC states that social distancing is most effective when you practice it along with the other precautions—wearing a face mask, not touching your face, and making sure you wash your hands frequently.

To practice social distancing, avoid going to crowded places and make sure you keep your distance from others if you are out running an errand (like going to the pharmacy or grocery store).

With the holidays approaching, you might be hoping to celebrate with your loved ones in person, but it's not safe to get together with others amid the pandemic. To stay connected with your friends and family, use the phone or video chat instead.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Characteristics associated with adults remembering to wash hands in multiple situations before and during the COVID-19 pandemic—United States, October 2019 and June 2020MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6940a2

  2. Reiner RC, Barber RM, Collins JK, Zheng P, Adolph C, Albright J, et al. Modeling Covid-19 scenarios for the United StatesNature Medicine. 2021;27:94-105.

  3. Kanu FA. Declines in SARS-CoV-2 transmission, hospitalizations, and mortality after implementation of mitigation measures—Delaware, March–June 2020MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Show me the science - why wash your hands?.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When and how to wash your hands.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Social distancing, quarantine, and isolation.

By Caroline Shannon Karasik
Caroline Shannon Karasik is a writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. In addition to Verywell, her work has appeared in several publications, including Good Housekeeping, Women's Health and Well+Good.