Health and Wellness

Bill Gates suggests calling out non-mask wearers—but here's what experts say you should do

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People wearing masks are seen walking on the Brooklyn Bridge in July.
Alexi Rosenfeld | Getty Images

As health experts continue to plead with Americans to wear masks to help slow the spread of Covid-19, billionaire Bill Gates suggested using peer pressure as a way to get non-mask-wearers to change.

Rather than force people to wear a mask, "[w]hat you need is that if you're walking around without a mask, people go, 'Hey, buddy, that's inappropriate,"' Gates told Business Insider in an interview published Thursday. Giving people "this sense of we're in it together" will work better than federal penalties, he said.

"You really need everyone that you respect, who you listen to, to be setting out that message, and the U.S. just isn't there," Gates said.

However, Julia Marcus, an epidemiologist and professor at Harvard Medical School whose research centers around HIV prevention, warns against calling someone out for being irresponsible or selfish.

"While it's perfectly valid to ask someone to wear a mask if you can't move away from them, I think we need to be careful about shaming people, which can actually cement their resistance," Marcus tells CNBC Make It. 

Marcus' HIV prevention research has shown that shame can be a huge barrier when it comes to public health. 

Instead, Marcus suggests saying something like, "Would you mind wearing a mask while you're around me?" 

She has also recommended a similar tactic used to get people to use condoms during the AIDS crisis — make masks readily available at places like stores or airports where they are most needed, she told The Verge

Aziza Ahmed, a law professor who specializes in health at Northeastern University, advises it's okay to put "little bit of social pressure on people" you know, but not necessarily with strangers. 

"It's a good idea to remind our neighbors and friends to wear masks and socially distance, and I think those are the types of interactions that will make a difference," Ahmed says. People are more likely to listen to someone they know because they want to their loved ones "to feel comfortable" around them, she says.

"I am less inclined to support the idea that we should be policing each other's behavior at random," she says.

According to recent study, researchers at the University of Washington's Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluations (IHME) predicted if everyone in the U.S. wears a mask, 58% of Covid-19 deaths could be prevented by the fall.

IHME estimated that mask use is currently between 20% and 60% in the U.S.

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