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For a while, I've been a bit bothered by claims that Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the US President, explicitly claimed that face masks don't work to stop the spread of COVID-19.

For example, political commentator Kyle Kulinksi said on his show:

These are deep purveyors in misinformation. [...] Even on the issue of COVID, early on, Dr Fauci said "Hey, masks don't work at all. Don't wear a mask."

I know Fauci did say that there is no need to use masks in the very early days of the pandemic. However, I haven't seen any statement by Dr. Fauci saying that masks do not work against COVID-19.

Did Dr. Fauci explicitly say face masks do not work to stop the spread of COVID-19?

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    Deleted discussion about vaccines as not relevant to the question. Deleted suggestions that this is not notable because the claimants are not veracious. These are two separate issues; this question is on topic here, even if you do not trust the claimant.
    – Oddthinking
    Feb 9, 2022 at 9:24
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    What kind of evidence would be needed to adequately support an answer of "No, he didn't?" Unfortunately, proving a negative is not easy. Also unfortunately, both the current answers are merely examples of times where he clearly didn't say that, but people twisted it later to claim that he did. If the question were specifically asking about whether he made the claim in a particular interview/article/e-mail/whatever, then it would be easy enough to refute, but finding positive evidence that he never made a claim (as opposed to merely lack of evidence that he made it) is a much higher standard.
    – reirab
    Feb 11, 2022 at 6:56
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    @reirab That problem has occurred to me. I figured by asking, we would either increase our certainty that he didn't say that, or have a definitive answer that he did. Plus, the fact that he implied masks do work to reduce the chance of infected people spreading covid in February (as, in my opinion, is evident from answers provided) makes it more unlikely that he explicitly said they don't. Feb 11, 2022 at 11:32

2 Answers 2

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I have seen the 60 Minutes interview (March 2020: Dr. Anthony Fauci talks with Dr Jon LaPook about Covid-19) used as proof positive for this. The dialogue goes (transcribed by me. I is the interviewer and F is for Fauci):

F: The masks are important for someone who's infected to prevent them from infecting someone else. Now, when you see people and films from China, South Korea, ... everybody is wearing a mask. Right now, in the United States, people should not be walking around with masks.
I: You're sure of it? Because people are listening really closely to this.
F: Right now there is no reason to be walking around with a mask. When you're in the middle of an outbreak, wearing a mask might make people "feel" a little bit better and it might even block a droplet, but it's not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is. And often there are unintended consequences. People keep fiddling with the mask and they keep touching their face.
I: And can you get some schmutz sort of staying inside there?
F: Of course. But when you think "masks", you should think of healthcare providers needing them and people who are ill. When you look at films of foreign countries and you see 85% of the people wearing masks, that's fine, I'm not against it.
I: But it can lead to a shortage ... of masks.
F: Exactly, that's the point. It could lead to a shortage of masks for the people who really need it.

Emphasized for clarity. A layman's reading of this certainly supports this interpretation. Specifically he says it's 'not providing the perfect protection people think it is'.

Given that 60 Minutes is a popular show for a general audience, it is hard to justify that one should expect more than a layman's interpretation of this.

Edit 10.2.2022:
Please note that question is not whether masks are effective or not, but what was claimed at the time. For effectiveness see another open skeptics question. Nod to LShaver.

For context, The Hill has an article expanding why these statements were made at the time.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. (That means do NOT post more comments here, while the chat room is still open.)
    – Oddthinking
    Feb 11, 2022 at 15:03
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There is reporting by Newsweek from June 2021 that Dr. Fauci downplayed the effectiveness of cloth masks in preventing infection in an email with a colleague from February 2020. This information does not indicate that he made an official public statement to this effect at this time.

From the Newsweek article:

Fauci wrote: "Masks are really for infected people to prevent them from spreading infection to people who are not infected rather than protecting uninfected people from acquiring infection.

"The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through material. It might, however, provide some slight benefit in keep out gross droplets if someone coughs or sneezes on you."

He added: "I do not recommend that you wear a mask, particularly since you are going to a very low risk location."

This can be confirmed by reviewing page 3027 in the Document Cloud obtained by Buzzfeed via a FOIA request.

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    Name calling comments deleted. Also, comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. This means don't post more comments here while the chat is open.
    – Oddthinking
    Feb 11, 2022 at 15:05

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