Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb: ‘A Cloth Mask May Be 10 to 30% Protective’

A woman wearing a face mask to protect against the coronavirus disease walks out of an underground crossing at Tverskaya metro station in central Moscow on October 26, 2020. (Photo by YURI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images)

( – Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recommends that people who vote in person should have a high-quality mask, but he said Sunday that cloth masks only provide 10 to 30 percent protection from the coronavirus.

“Remember, the masks serve two purposes. One is to protect other people from you. So if you’re asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, if you have a mask on, you’re less likely to expel respiratory droplets that can infect other people. The other purpose is to provide you some measure of protection if, in fact, you’re around people who are infected. So if you want a mask to afford you some protection from other people, quality matters,” he said.

“A cloth mask, may be 10 percent to 30 percent protective. A surgical mask, a level two or level-three surgical mask, procedure mask, may be about 60 percent effective. An N95 mask or an equivalent like a KN95 mask, which is the Chinese equivalent or what we call an FFP2 mask, which is a European equivalent to an N95 that could be 90-95 percent protective,” Gottlieb said. 

“So if you want a mask to afford you a level of protection, wear a higher-quality mask. If you only can get a cloth mask, thickness matters and cloth masks with polyester in them and a combination of polyester and cotton do better,” he said.

On the topic of a vaccine, the Trump administration announce this week that through Operation Warp Speed, they project that all vulnerable people will be vaccinated by the end of 2020. By the end of January, all seniors will be vaccinated, and by March or April 2021, they should be able to vaccinate any American. Dr. Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed, said that he’s confident that everyone in the U.S. should be immunized by June.

When asked if that’s realistic, Gottlieb said, “I think it’s aggressive. Look, this is first based on a presumption that these pivotal trials that are underway by Moderna and Pfizer actually read out and demonstrate that these vaccines are safe and effective. We all hope for that. We believe that’s going to be the case based on the early data, but you don’t know until you turn over the card on those trials. 

“Assuming things go well, there is a chance that they could roll out this vaccine in time to get the elderly population in the United States vaccinated, the first dose of the vaccine, but, remember, they need to now wait a month to get the second dose, and there’s a period of time of a week or two until they have protective immunity from the vaccine. So you’re looking really at 2021 until the vaccine really kicks in,” he said.

“In terms of the entire population, I think it’s unrealistic to think that we’re going to have a vaccine widely available for general distribution and authorized by the FDA for mass distribution until probably the second quarter of 2021 later on in the second quarter,” Gottlieb added.