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NBC News plays the hits: Time to double-mask kids — again — to stop COVID

The Furnace
Image source: Twitter video screenshot

In January 2021, double-masking was all the rage.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci was going on TV and telling people that double-masking "just makes common sense" as a more effective way to fight COVID-19.
  • New York City's top adviser to the mayor on public health, Dr. Jay Varma, was urging Gothamites to double-mask in order to fight whatever new variant might have been rearing its head at the time.
  • Virginia Tech professor and reported expert in virus transmission Linsey Marr was pushing double-masking for the public, touting to the AARP what a good idea a second mask is.
  • Harvard professor Joseph Allen told folks not just to double up on masks when indoors but also advised that people wear two- or three-layer masks while outside jogging alone with no one around.
  • The sudden push to get people to wear two masks prompted CNBC to actually ask, if two masks are good, why not three? The cable outlet's report claimed that going from one mask to two increases efficacy from 55% to 70%. And then they claimed tripling masks increases efficacy to 90%.

After a surge in calls to double- or triple-mask, Michael Osterholm, who served on President Joe Biden's COVID-19 Advisory Board during the presidential transition, explained to NBC News that double-masking could enhance infection.

But never mind what Osterholm said.

And never mind recent reports, including a science piece in the Atlantic from just a couple weeks ago, calling the CDC's case for wearing masks in school "flawed."

What's old is new again.

NBC News is once again harping on the idea of doubling up on masks.

NBC reporter Vicky Nguyen went on NBC's "Today" Tuesday and told viewers that she sent her little ones out the door with two masks, a surgical mask and a cloth mask, which she called the "second-best" option after K-95s.

As Nguyen, an investigative and consumer correspondent, offered her opinion, the show's hosts nodded in approval and lauded her "good advice."

But how good was the advice? If the aforementioned Atlantic report is to be believed, not that great:

Scientists generally agree that, according to the research literature, wearing masks can help protect people from the coronavirus, but the precise extent of that protection, particularly in schools, remains unknown—and it might be very small. What data do exist have been interpreted into guidance in many different ways. The World Health Organization, for example, does not recommend masks for children under age 6. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control recommends against the use of masks for any children in primary school.

Seen in this context, the CDC has taken an especially aggressive stance, recommending that all kids 2 and older should be masked in school. The agency has argued for this policy amid an atmosphere of persistent backlash and skepticism, but on September 26, its director, Rochelle Walensky, marched out a stunning new statistic: Speaking as a guest on CBS’s Face the Nation, she cited a study published two days earlier, which looked at data from about 1,000 public schools in Arizona. The ones that didn’t have mask mandates, she said, were 3.5 times as likely to experience COVID outbreaks as the ones that did.

This estimated effect of mask requirements—far bigger than others in the research literature—would become a crucial talking point in the weeks to come. On September 28, during a White House briefing, Walensky brought up the 3.5 multiplier again; then she tweeted it that afternoon. In mid-October, with the school year in full swing, Walensky brought up the same statistic one more time.

But the Arizona study at the center of the CDC’s back-to-school blitz turns out to have been profoundly misleading.

The Atlantic report went on to criticize the call for masking kids in schools and to detail exactly the flaws in such demands.

Americans have been repeatedly lectured to "follow the science." Are the folks at NBC News listening?

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