Zeynep Tufekci advocates mask wearing in open letter to U.S. Governors and op-eds in USA Today and The Atlantic

May 18, 2020

UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) Associate Professor Zeynep Tufekci joined with over 100 experts – including two Nobel laureates, the editors-in-chief of Nature and The Lancet, and medical and scientific leaders from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and the University of Texas – to sign an open letter to all U.S. governors, asking them to “require cloth masks to be worn in all public places, such as stores, transportation systems, and public buildings.”

Tufekci and Jeremy Howard, a distinguished research scientist at the University of San Francisco, authored a USA Today op-ed, explaining the reasons mask wearing is so crucial to stopping the spread of COVID-19 and rebuilding the economy. The column became the #1 op-ed USA Today published during the week of May 15.

Tufekci, Howard, and Trisha Greenhalgh, a professor of primary care health sciences at the University of Oxford, had previously penned a letter advocating mask wearing that was published in The Atlantic on April 22. “The Real Reason to Wear a Mask” cites research showing that even a cotton mask can reduce the number of virus particles emitted from people’s mouths by as much as 99 percent.

“This reduction provides two huge benefits,” the authors write. “Fewer virus particles mean that people have a better chance of avoiding infection, and if they are infected, the lower viral-exposure load may give them a better chance of contracting only a mild illness.”

Mask wearing was an essential component of Hong Kong’s success in handling the virus, Tufekci explains in her May 12 Atlantic op-ed "How Hong Kong Did It." The nearly universal mask wearing and other measures that helped keep the spread and death-toll low were coordinated through the infrastructure and communication lines established during the city’s 2019 protests.

“Seared with the memory of SARS, and already mobilized for the past year against their unpopular government, the city’s citizens acted swiftly, collectively, and efficiently, in effect saving themselves” Tufecki writes.

Since COVID-19 emerged, Tufekci has authored multiple columns examining responses to the virus and making recommendations on how to move forward, including:

The WHO Shouldn’t Be a Plaything for Great Powers” (April 16) The Atlantic

Keep the Parks Open” (April 7) The Atlantic

Don’t Believe the COVID-19 Models. That’s not what they’re for” (April 2) The Atlantic

It Wasn’t Just Trump Who Got It Wrong” (March 24) The Atlantic

 “Why Telling People They Didn’t Need Masks Backfired” (March 17) New York Times

Preparing for Coronavirus to Strike the U.S.” (Feb. 27) Scientific American.

 “How the Coronavirus Revealed Authoritarianism’s Fatal Flaw” (Feb. 22) The Atlantic