ISB News

Molecular Biologist Dr. Sui Huang: We Should All Be Wearing Masks

the case for masks

Droplets larger than aerosols, when exhaled, evaporate or fall to the ground less than 1.5 m away. When expelled at high velocity through coughing or sneezing, especially larger droplets, can be carried by the jet more than 2m or 6m, respectively, away.
© Dr. Sui Huang, ISB

ISB Professor Sui Huang, MD, PhD, was one of many experts calling on public officials to rethink official recommendations in the U.S. and other western countries and to embrace wearing masks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Huang, a molecular biologist and ISB professor, was a powerful voice contending that masks are an effective tool to stop the spread of COVID-19. Huang had called initial guidelines from the CDC and other public health agencies “unfortunate,” as they swept aside a potentially powerful measure that can help “flatten the curve.”

Huang wrote a March 26 article (COVID-19: Why We Should All Wear Masks — There Is New Scientific Rationale) that has been viewed millions of times on Medium, and he has since discussed that rationale in a video Q&A.

“Masks are very important and effective,” Huang said. “Even if you act out of fear and out of a sense to protect yourself, you actually also protect others. It’s a bidirectional protection. We have a public incentive constellation that the CDC has missed.”

Watch the Video Q & A

Huang also cited recently published data in the journal Nature that shows the nose and throat is where the virus lands, where the body’s receptors for virus docking are, and where the virus replicates. This important discovery by a German group suggests that transmission occurs mostly via large droplets and less via those fine aerosols that can end up deep in the lung. Thus, even a surgery mask or do-it-yourself (DIY) cloth mask will act as an effective barrier. Higher-grade N95 masks aren’t needed to block the large spray droplets that come from the nasopharynx. (N95 masks filter out 95 percent of small airborne particles. They are necessary to block these tiny aerosolized droplets that reach the lower lungs, but are overkill for the larger droplets that originate from and land in the upper respiratory system.)

If the “respiratory etiquette” of sneezing into your elbow is protective, then masks should be protective, Huang said. “Any physical barrier should be helpful,” he said. “When empirical evidence is lacking, we should trust measures based on common sense, plausible mechanisms especially when costs are minimal.”

Recent Articles

  • View of the responsive recruitment website and electronic consent platform as seen on mobile phone and desktop devices.

    ISB Builds Digital Platform for COVID-19 Research Study – and Beyond

    In a multi-institutional study of a highly infectious disease like COVID-19, paperless consent for study participants is critical. One component of the COVID-19 Immune Response Study is a recruitment website with an IRB-approved and HIPAA-compliant electronic consent platform for enrolling patients.

  • Reshaping STEM Education Toward a More Equitable Future for Students

    ISB Assistant Professor Dr. Sean Gibbons recently participated in a virtual event titled “Reshaping STEM Education Toward Equitable Futures for Washington Students.” Panelists shared their insights about how to leverage this complex moment to reshape STEM education toward equity, sustainability, and prosperity for Washington state’s students — especially those furthest from opportunity.

  • Shmulevich-Thorsson

    ISB Researchers Among Recipients of AACR Team Science Award

    The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has recognized The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) project with the 2020 AACR Team Science Awards. Award recipients include Dr. Ilya Shmulevich, ISB professor and head of the Shmulevich Lab; ISB senior research scientist Dr. Vésteinn Þórsson; and former Shmulevich Lab members Drs. Brady Bernard and Theo Knijnenburg.