If you are looking for the scientific rationale behind universal mask-wearing, you certainly won't find it now that the issue has become as political as guns, abortion, and taxes. We are now at a point where Canada's chief public health officer is calling on people to wear masks when engaging in sexual activities and 19-month-old babies are being forced to wear them on airplanes. There is no rational thought in a political cult. But what did the governmental and scientific literature say on the issue before it became political?
On April 3, already several weeks into the unprecedented lockdown over coronavirus, but before the big media push for universal masking, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued guidance for respiratory protection for workers exposed to people with the virus. It stated clearly what governments had said all along about other forms of airborne contamination, such as smoke inhalation — "Surgical masks and eye protection (e.g., face shields, goggles) were provided as an interim measure to protect against splashes and large droplets (note: surgical masks are not respirators and do not provide protection against aerosol-generating procedures)."
In other words, they knew that because the virions of coronavirus are roughly 100 nanometers, 1/100,000 the width of a hair and 1/30 the size of surgical mask filtrations (about 3.0 microns or 3,000 nanometers), surgical masks (not to mention cloth ones) do not help. This would explain why experience has shown that all of the places with universal mask orders in place for months, such as Japan, Hong Kong, Israel, France, Peru, Philippines, Hawaii, California, and Miami, failed to stave off the spread of the infection. Surgical masks could possibly stop large droplets from those coughing with very evident symptoms, but would not stop the flow of aerosolized airborne particles, certainly not from asymptomatic individuals.
This is why the CDC, as late as May, was citing the 10 randomized controlled trials that showed "no significant reduction in influenza transmission with the use of face masks." The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford also summarized six international studies which "showed that masks alone have no significant effect in interrupting the spread of ILI or influenza in the general population, nor in healthcare workers."
When Dr. Fauci spoke so assertively against universal mask-wearing early on in the epidemic, it was clearly based on this knowledge. "There's no reason to be walking around with a mask," infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told "60 Minutes" on March 8. He went on to explain that masks can only block large droplets, they give a false sense of security, and they cause people to get more germs on their hands by fiddling with it. Those facts don't change with time.
Several weeks later, Surgeon General Jerome Adams punctuated this point about the counterproductivity of wearing masks in public. Appearing on "Fox & Friends" on March 31, Adams said that based on a study that shows medical students who wear masks touch their faces 23 times more often, one has to assume that "wearing a mask improperly can actually increase your risk of getting disease."
Ever since then, we have all seen how people leave masks in their pockets or cars for days and continuously put it on and off as needed without washing their hands. It's inconceivable that this is not serving as a bacteria trap, if not downright helping spread the virus on our hands.
A 2015 randomized clinical trial from the University of South Wales testing the effectiveness of cloth masks among health care workers in Hanoi found that the poor filtration becomes a conduit for moisture retention. Researchers found a high rate of infection among those workers presumably because "their reuse and poor filtration may explain the increased risk of infection." Can you imagine how much worse this is in a non-health-care setting where reuse and cross-contamination are rampant?
This is why before mask-wearing became a cult in Canada, Quebec's public health director Horacio Arruda told the Montreal Gazette that masks are counterproductive. Arruda's guidance as given in the article states that masks "get saturated with moisture from the mouth and nose after about 20 minutes. Once they're wet, they no longer form a barrier against viruses trying to come through or exit." This renders the daylong mask wearing in businesses, stores, and schools, as opposed to the short onetime use in clinical settings, a complete hazard to spread of bacteria and pathogens.
Nothing about the biology of the virus or our discovery of it has changed in the past few months that would lead us to believe that masks are somehow more effective against it than they are against the spread of other respiratory viruses. What has changed is the politics. Governments could no longer control our lives through wholesale lockdowns, because it was logistically untenable, so they created the mask mandate as a way of permanently controlling our movement. They wisely did this on the heels of the full-scale lockdown when people were grateful just to be back in business under any conditions and were desperately willing to do anything to stave off a shutdown.
Dr. Jeffery Klausner, an infectious disease doctor at UCLA, described mask-wearing in early February as all psychological, not physiological. He told the Los Angeles Times that "fear spreads a lot faster than the virus" and that a mask only "makes you feel better." What is so dangerous about this is that, as Fauci and others originally warned when they were actually speaking from a modicum of scientific grounding, is that many immunocompromised people will go to dangerous places thinking the mask protects them. I've seen countless friends and neighbors who are concerned about their heart conditions and diabetes blissfully walk around indoors thinking the mask is their shield.
This is why Swedish epidemiologist Anders Tegnell warned that because scientific evidence for mask-wearing to prevent COVID-19 is "astonishingly weak," it is "very dangerous" to believe that face masks on their own could control the spread of the disease rather than hand washing or, in the case of those who are seriously ill, staying away from indoor gatherings. He would know, because his country barely has any cases left, and almost nobody in Sweden wears a mask.
The Dutch government made the prudent decision of only requiring masks on public transit when people are really close to each other for a limited period of time. With such scant evidence of the effectiveness of mask-wearing, how can we disrupt lives of children in school, businessmen in offices, and even people walking outdoors in some countries and states? "From a medical point of view, there is no evidence of a medical effect of wearing face masks, so we decided not to impose a national obligation," said Netherlands Medical Care Minister Tamara van Ark in August.
The Danish supposedly commissioned a randomized clinical trial to study mask effectiveness specifically as it relates to protecting against SARS-CoV-2, but despite promises of imminent release weeks ago, the study has not been published. Henning Bundgaard, chief physician at Denmark's Rigshospitale, noted, "All these countries recommending face masks haven't made their decisions based on new studies." It doesn't appear that anyone else is interested in finding out the truth.
Even in England, where there is more mask-wearing than in some of the other northern European countries, Public Health England concluded, "There is weak evidence from epidemiological and modelling studies that mask wearing in the community may contribute to reducing the spread of COVID-19 and that early intervention may result in a lower peak infection rate."
Our own U.S. government has failed to produce new evidence that counters years' worth of evidence that masks don't work in stopping respiratory viruses and is still producing evidence to the contrary. In June, HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality funded a systemic review of all relevant randomized clinical trials (RCTs) on the effectiveness of mask-wearing in stopping respiratory infections and published the findings in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The conclusion was as clear as it is jarring to the current cult-like devotion to mask-wearing. "Review of RCTs indicates that N95 respirators and surgical masks are probably associated with similar risk for influenza-like illness and laboratory-confirmed viral infections in high- and low-risk settings." The study noted that only one trial did show "a small decrease in risk" for infection when doctors wore N95s in high-risk settings, but even that evidence was scant.
The study looked at eight trials with 6,510 participants that "evaluated use of surgical masks within households with an influenza or influenza-like illness index case (child or adult). Compared with no masks, surgical masks were not associated with decreased risk for clinical respiratory illness, influenza-like illness, or laboratory-confirmed viral illness in household contacts when masks were worn by household contacts, index cases, or both." Remember, Dr. Deborah Birx, the Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, is now saying people should wear masks even at home?
How have we gone from public officials universally warning about the lack of effectiveness plus the potential to spread germs from masks to mandating that young children who are germ factories wear them all day in school – without even a legislative debate or public hearings?
The answer is that we have become emasculated as a society. We have become a people who are willing to surrender every morsel of our liberty at the ever-changing and capricious whims of "public health officials," even when they are appallingly contradictory and without any evidence justifying the 180-degree U-turn.
During times of panic, opportunistic politicians in positions of power will always latch on to desperate and regressive ideas to infringe upon liberty, while packaging them as some sort of enlightened advancement in technology or understanding. In reality, these same desperate measures were tried in 1918, and even then, it was understood that they didn't work. A November 16, 1918, headline of the Santa Barbara Daily News read, "Average Person Doesn't Know How to Take Care of Mask and It Becomes Veritable Bacteria Incubator."
2/ That headline was in the Santa Barbara Daily News and the Independent, Nov 16, 1918. "The average person doesn't… https://t.co/rEGTF4f5Z2— Justin Hart (@Justin Hart) 1597640374.0
Many principles in life are inviolable and do not change with time. We used to understand that mask-wearing was a novelty of Halloween. Now, our passivity has allowed our entire country to become a Halloween nightmare masquerade every day, with no end in sight.
This article has been updated.