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Bill Gates says he doesn't understand anti-maskers: 'What are these, like nudists?'

Nov 17, 2020, 04:11 IST
Business Insider
Bill Gates, Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation speaks onstage at 2019 New York Times Dealbook on November 06, 2019 in New York City.Mike Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times
  • Bill Gates doesn't understand why people resist wearing masks, he said on the first episode of his new podcast with actress Rashida Jones.
  • What are these, like nudists?" the Microsoft founder said. "We ask you to wear pants. No American — or very few Americans — say that that's like some terrible thing."
  • Gates said experts first based recommendations on what they knew about other respiratory viruses, but COVID-19 turned out to be much different. Now the evidence in favor of masks is "overwhelming."
  • The premiere episode of Jones and Gates' new podcast series, "Bill Gates and Rashida Jones Ask Big Questions," includes an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The evidence is overwhelming: Masks work to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In places where they're mandated, rates of COVID-19 sink, and one recent model estimates that if all Americans wore them, 63,000 more US deaths could be prevented by March.

But not all Americans are on board, snubbing the face coverings as a political statement against science and for independence.

Bill Gates doesn't get them.

"The idea that somebody is resisting wearing a mask, that is such a weird thing to me," the billionaire Microsoft founder and philanthropist told actress and comedian Rashida Jones on the first episode of their new podcast series, "Bill Gates and Rashida Jones Ask Big Questions,"released today.


"What are these, like nudists?" he asked. "We ask you to wear pants. No American says, or very few Americans say, that that's like some terrible thing."

Jones agreed. "If you want to get back to normal life any time sooner, wear a mask, or don't wear a mask and stay at home," she said. "But to ask for both things sounds like you just want things to be better and they're not, so you kind of just have to deal with what it is."

"The mask helps you open up more things," Gates said.

Gates explained why masks weren't expected to be so important early in the pandemic

In the episode, Jones asks Gates why health experts didn't always think masks were effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Gates said early on, experts based their advice on what they knew about other respiratory viruses, like the common cold and flu. In those cases, the illness may spread when people cough, but far less readily than COVID-19, which can jump between people who are merely talking.


"These unbelievable viral loads that you see with the coronavirus don't occur with most of the other respiratory viruses," Gates said.

For example, if someone with a cold spent an hour, maskless, in a room with others, most people would remain healthy. But if a maskless person with COVID-19 spends an hour in a room with others, "a high percentage" would wind up sick. "That's like the measles," he said.

"Our model of flu with coughing turned out to be wrong."

COVID-19's ability to spread when people are asymptomatic is unusual too, he said. So while people with a cold or flu tend to stay home when they're contagious simply because they don't feel well, people with COVID-19 can be walking around feeling healthy and unknowingly infecting those around them.

Experts have also learned during this pandemic that homemade cloth masks, ideally with three layers, help prevent the spread of disease. Early on, they only thought N95 or medical grade masks worked, and wanted the limited supply to be saved for healthcare workers.


But now, Gates said, "it's overwhelmingly clear that the upside [of mask-wearing] is gigantic." Here's a chart showing which types of masks are most effective for various situations.

The podcast's first episode features an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci

Gates and Jones' podcast series promises "to tackle some of the biggest questions facing us today," including whether it's too late to solve climate change or if inequality is inevitable. Jones positions herself as the pessimist; Gates, the optimist.

In their first episode, the pair calls top infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who discusses what a vaccine rollout could look like, and why it's important to continue mask-wearing and other public health measures when such a rollout begins.

"One of the things we're dealing with is a degree of essentially fatigue that people have about going through this. It's amazing, it's almost like a distortion of time, Rashida," Fauci said.

"I want to tell people, 'Don't give up, this is going to end, science is going to help us with a vaccine and therapy, and if we pay attention to the public health measures, we can gain control of it."

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