It's the lie that won't die and the one that is designed to prevent mask-wearing from being relegated to the ash heap of history. The same experts who last year predicted a "twindemic" of COVID and the flu flooding the hospitals together, completely missing the natural phenomenon of viral interference, are now crediting the lack of flu and other respiratory viruses to mask-wearing. But the disappearance of flu-like illnesses occurred even at times and in places where mask-wearing was uncommon, and its subsequent re-emergence occurred even in places where mask-wearing was still in vogue.
Last week, the local ABC station in Dallas ran a story on the out-of-season spread of RSV in north Texas and of course blamed people not wearing masks. "We've changed our behavior and now nature is giving us the answer," said Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, chief of infectious diseases at Children's Health and professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center. "For the people who think masks don't make a difference, I can't think of any better evidence to suggest that masks actually make a huge difference," Kahn said.
This story came on the heels of the Boston Globe running a headline, "The downside of ditching masks: the return of colds, flu" — all the while never presenting a shred of evidence that masks are the source of the changing trends. Dr. Fauci himself predicted that mask-wearing for the flu might become universal. "I think people have gotten used to the fact that wearing masks, clearly, if you look at the data, diminishes respiratory diseases," he said. "We've had practically a non-existent flu season this year merely because people were doing the kinds of public health things that were directed predominantly against COVID-19."
Like most ideas promoted by leftists, the mask theory about the flu sounds good for about one second, but if you allow your brain to think past that political impulse of groupthink, their entire theory falls apart. In fact, it's quite evident that the disappearance of the flu and some other respiratory viruses (but not all) is due to viral interference, a phenomenon completely out of our hands.
Here are four points to consider:
1) How can masks work so spectacularly for the flu and RSV but fail so miserably for COVID? Crediting mask-wearing and not natural viral interference from COVID for the disappearance of other viruses implicitly implicates the belief that masks worked for COVID! Although the endless charts and data prove masks never worked anywhere, theoretically, supporters could hypothesize that it might have been slightly worse at any given time had masks not been worn. However, if they are now crediting a near 100% drop in flu-like illness to mask-wearing, there are no laws of biology and physics that can explain a close to zero effect on COVID. The virions are roughly the same size for both viruses. If anything, there are 10 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) cited by the CDC that already showed masks don't work for the flu. The only question was whether perhaps masks could work for this new virus. And of course, we have our answer from a year of data and the results of the only RCT conducted, showing no statistically meaningful effect.
2) Why did rhinovirus colds continue while coronavirus colds stopped? Rhinoviruses pretty much circulated normally throughout the entire duration of the epidemic.
The same trend was observed for adenoviruses, which seemed to remain pretty level throughout the pandemic:
Contrast that to the CDC surveillance data of the four coronavirus colds, and you will see that they completely disappeared during the normal late fall/winter season.
There is no logical reason why mask-wearing would chase away coronaviruses but not rhinoviruses or adenoviruses. Adenovirus virions are roughly 0.1 microns, the same size as SARS-CoV-2 virions. If anything, the Ro rate of contagion for coronaviruses is much higher than for rhinoviruses. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense that from an immunobiological standpoint, COVID, a form of coronavirus, would interfere with the spread of viruses within the same family.
3) Disappearance of viruses coincided with circulation of COVID, not COVID response. Perhaps the most obvious proof that the disappearance of the viruses like flu, coronavirus colds, and RSV was due to natural viral interference and not mask-wearing is the timing.
As you can see from Bio Fire Syndromatic Trends, the flu, RSV, and coronavirus colds dropped off the face of the earth beginning in late February 2020. Mask-wearing did not become common until April (or May-June in some places), yet these viruses ground to a halt in the late winter/early spring even more than the typical drop we see in March. It coincides perfectly with the timing of the virus, not the mask-wearing.
Likewise, the re-emergence of viruses like RSV, coronavirus colds, and parainfluenza off-season during the spring coincides with COVID cases dropping like a rock, not the lack of mask-wearing. For example, while many southern states ended the mask mandates in the early spring, New York only recently ended it, and most people still wear masks indoors in the northeast. Yet the CDC's data on RSV show the resurgence beginning early in the year – exactly when COVID started to decline.
Similarly, the CDC's data for coronaviruses in the northeast (heavily masked) show those colds making a comeback long before the mask mandates were lifted.
4) Flu disappeared in countries and regions that did not have widespread masking. Nearly every country experienced the natural circulation of COVID, but not all of them wore masks. Sweden was notorious for thumbing its nose at the mask fad, yet the flu and RSV completely disappeared. Then RSV reappeared when the virus declined:
And who can ignore Japan? The Japanese are notorious for disciplined mask-wearing during the flu season, yet there is no evidence the practice ever made a dent until this year's circulation of COVID, a very aggressive and durable pandemic.
Indeed, when our public health officials follow political science rather than life science, anything is possible. As it relates to masks, they can only get the credit for any positive trend, but not the blame of any case increase.