David O’Connor, who studies viral disease at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said: “If a substantial amount of transmission occurs before people feel sick, how do you stop that? By the time people feel sick and seek care, all the testing and isolation in the world would be too little, too late.”
Dr. O’Connor, who researches H.I.V. and other viruses, including the new coronavirus, said some recent research had shifted his thinking about the current pandemic.
“H.I.V. is also spread while people feel fine,” he wrote in an email, “and consistent, correct condom use is a barrier to sexual virus transmission that works.”
“Face masks are a barrier method that might also need to be worn consistently and correctly to prevent transmission of this virus,” Dr. O’Connor added.
He said it was time to “normalize face masks, and fast.”
“Kids are going to need to wear them to school when classes resume,” Dr. O’Connor said. “Adults are going to need to wear them to work. If you want to go to a basketball game, when we get to that point, face mask. They need to be as ubiquitous as Kleenex, as quickly as possible.”
And they should probably be fashionable as well, he said, with celebrities promoting them. He suggested LeBron James.
Two of the papers that prompted Dr. O’Connor’s thoughts on masks and condoms came out in the past week. One, in Nature Medicine, estimated that viral shedding — when people are spreading active viruses by breathing or coughing or sneezing — began two to three days before the onset of any symptoms.
The monkeys never developed visible symptoms, but the virus was detectable, and the monkeys’ lungs showed damage consistent with a Covid-19-like disease.
Barry Rockx, of Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, one of the authors of the Science paper, said that the research showed the monkeys would be useful in testing treatments and vaccines. Also, he said, “It looks like the peak of shedding occurs very early on.”
If that is also true in humans, as the Nature Medicine paper found, “that could potentially explain why this virus is spreading so rapidly throughout the population,” Dr. Rockx said.
He said: “And just like there needed to be sex-positive, non-stigmatizing marketing to increase condom uptake to fight HIV, similar efforts will need to be taken to galvanize people to make mask wearing cool and essential. (Designer face masks? More comfortable face masks?)”
That’s happening too. One thing he didn’t mention, which could be the ultimate best seller, and which did not appear to be for sale in several internet searches — the Fauci face mask.