by Leslie Bienen, Jeanne Noble and Margery Smelkinson
Friday, 13
January 2023
Video
15:01

The scientific case against face masks

The press is once again promoting a measure proved to be ineffective
by Leslie Bienen, Jeanne Noble and Margery Smelkinson

This winter season, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Atlantic, among other outlets, have all published articles on the same theme. According to their advice, we should re-don masks to prevent seasonal spread of influenza, RSV, Covid-19 and run-of-the-mill colds. This seems poised to become a yearly occurrence, as with the accompanying post-holiday mandates in some schools, colleges, and elsewhere that these articles actively encourage.   

However, while these articles are full of quotations from health officials and disease experts, glaringly absent is high-quality data to support claims that masking reduces spread of circulating seasonal viruses. 


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The reason for this omission may be that, three years into the pandemic, there are no rigorous studies showing masks to be an effective method of viral infection control. In fact the highest-quality scientific studies, randomised controlled trials (RCTs), show the opposite: that masks make little to no difference in controlling spread of influenza, SARS-CoV-2, or RSV. 

In May 2020, the CDC summarised data from 14 RCTs as failing to show a significant benefit of masks in reducing transmission of influenza. An analysis of nine trials conducted by Cochrane, an organisation that conducts large reviews of health-care interventions, reached similar conclusions in November 2020. Studies of masking to prevent common colds and RSV also had negative results. 

For Covid-19, there are two RCTs evaluating masks’ ability to cut viral spread. One, conducted in Denmark in the spring of 2020, found no statistically significant difference in infection rates between masked and unmasked groups. Another, bigger, RCT — conducted in Bangladesh from late 2020 until the following spring — showed a small but statistically significant reduction of symptomatic Covid-19 cases in villages using surgical masks. Yet even this small benefit was lost upon reanalysis using different statistical parameters. An additional finding that mask colour made a difference in effectiveness further suggests that this positive data were skewed in some way. 

Another rigorous study, though not an RCT, was conducted in schools in Catalonia, Spain. This showed that unmasked five-year-olds had similar Covid-19 case rates to masked six-year-olds, the age at which masking was mandated. 

These high-quality studies are noticeably not linked in any “mask up” articles. Instead, links (if any are provided) reference low-quality observational studies such as a CDC analysis from 2021 that found higher paediatric Covid-19 rates in unmasked schools compared to masked ones. This study was subsequently debunked upon reanalysis using more districts and a longer time period. 

A recent analysis conducted in Massachusetts schools, reporting that masks reduced Covid-19 case rates, is another popular source used to support media exhortations to mask up. However, this study was also riddled with issues, such as changes in testing practices after masking was dropped (impacting Covid-19 detection) and differences in levels of natural immunity between masked and unmasked schools before and during the study period. In addition, many of the schools cited as requiring masks during the study period had already dropped their mandate

Many media outlets have also repeated that “high-quality masks” are the solution to viral spread. But, again, we lack randomised data providing evidence that these masks do a significantly better job than other types. While fitted N95s can be effective at protecting against bacterial and droplet transmission, several RCTs have found them not to be significantly better than surgical masks at protecting against influenza or SARS-CoV-2 infection.  

We all want masks to work, but thus far high-quality data indicates that they don’t, at least not on a measurable population level. The same is true of rapid testing. Considering the limited accuracy of a single asymptomatic swab at detecting SARS-CoV-2, the advice to “test before seeing Grandma” is not supported by evidence that this would provide meaningful protection. In fact, a few studies have shown that large asymptomatic Covid-19 testing programs have had limited utility in reducing transmission. 

Insisting upon mask effectiveness or the reliability of antigen testing may actually be emboldening vulnerable people, or those who interact closely with vulnerable people, to take risks by eliciting a false sense of security. This phenomenon, known as the Peltzman effect, where people act more carelessly when they perceive risk is lower due to the presence of a guardrail, has been shown to influence a range of behaviours including driving, drug use and sexual activity. 

In the case of the coronavirus, this might involve forgoing other precautions that would actually protect themselves and others, such as getting vaccinated, avoiding crowds, making sure rooms are ventilated well, and staying home when sick. Even the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, Ashish Jha, recently appeared to lament that an overreliance on masking has replaced necessary investments in improving indoor air quality.

The fact that many news outlets continue to promote narratives that are not supported by high-quality scientific evidence may be contributing to historically low levels of trust in the media. Hyping unproven mitigation measures was, and continues to be, a serious mistake.

 

Dr Leslie Bienen works in health care policy. 
Dr Jeanne Noble is an emergency physician and director of Covid Response at the UCSF Parnassus Emergency Department. 
Dr Margery Smelkinson is an infectious-disease scientist whose research has focused on influenza and SARS-CoV-2.

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Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
25 days ago

Even if there was a small reduction in transmission arising from mask wearing in non-medical settings (and there does not appear to be), any analysis of the net benefit would have to evaluate the psychological and other costs, including to the hard of hearing, those with poor language skills, and all those of us who find a smile from another helps us through the day. Shop workers had to wear a mask from the moment they stepped on public transport until they arrived home at the end of their working day. Personally I found mask mandates as dehumanising as the Hijab. I cannot understand how people are not upset at the notion “masked six-year-olds, the age at which masking was mandated.” Yet the progressive left seemed almost unanimously in favour. I cannot understand this.

Last edited 25 days ago by Stephen Walshe
Phillip Arundel
Phillip Arundel
25 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

It does not matter if it does reduce risk – it is against human rights to mandate face covering. Get a full face covering respirator for your self if you wish – I refused the mask and the vax because it was a total violation of my rights as a human.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
22 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

I share your mystification.

Dog Eared
Dog Eared
25 days ago

I often see people in the street or even on bicycles masked up and do wonder how we got here – it could be that they are very vulnerable, but always makes me cringe. Of all the covid rules mask wearing was the worst.

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
25 days ago
Reply to  Dog Eared

This is what happens when people abandon logic and reason, trading them for safety and misguided notions of community deference.
We were in a National Park recently. It was raining heavily. Few people were venturing out, yet we saw young adults in their twenties riding bicycles wearing paper surgical masks that were dripping wet! Insanity. The young are being brainwashed. And, they have not been prepared with the intellectual rigor to resist this social indoctrination. Pathetic.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
25 days ago
Reply to  Dog Eared

I could never work out which irritated me more, cyclists with them on or motorists driving alone with them on.
Early in lock down, I made the best use of the quiet roads as I could, getting in some nice mileage on my bike in the hills near me and more than once passed cyclists with loose fitting masks on. If it’s letting in enough oxygen to get you to the top of a hill it’s probably not doing much to filter out viruses. If it’s effectively filtering the viruses out, then I guess that risk of hypoxia is going up more than a little.

J M
J M
24 days ago
Reply to  Dog Eared

Young people in motorcycles with a mask on but without a helmet.

Dominique Bastien
Dominique Bastien
22 days ago
Reply to  Dog Eared

I wear a mask when I bike in Florida or in the summer in Central Park in New York. It keeps the bugs out of my mouth.

David Jennings
David Jennings
21 days ago
Reply to  Dog Eared

It reminds me of the joke making the rounds at the time: the only acceptable excuse for a single person in a car wearing a mask is that they are stealing it!

Ddwieland
Ddwieland
20 days ago
Reply to  Dog Eared

I think keeping people away from elderly or hospitalized family or from gathering to grieve was even worse. Why were “experts” and authorities so determined to ignore the high emotional cost of such prohibitions?

Bruce Edgar
Bruce Edgar
15 days ago
Reply to  Dog Eared

Humankind evolved to have a ridiculously easy indoctrinability. E.O. Wilson

Michael Miles
Michael Miles
25 days ago

Good summary article. Good references.
There are three arguments you need to convince me of mask usefulness with respect to respiratory viruses: 1. Do they work in theory; 2. Do they work in practice; 3. If they work in theory and practice, why, from an evolutionary biology perspective, would you want to produce a population with naive immune systems? Unless of course you are a pharmaceutical company.

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
25 days ago

Very interesting article and video. It’s especially interesting to see Margery Smelkinson coming out so strongly against masks. She works at the NIAID, the part of the NIH that Tony Fauci headed for 43 years until his long overdue retirement last month. We never heard Tony Fauci talk sense like she does.
These three women, and others like them, are bringing solid science back to counter pandemic panic. They realize that public health interventions operate in a very, very complex system. Not only are our bodies very complex (particularly our immune systems), but our society is complex too. Results emerge from the interactions of many different elements. They are often unpredictable.
During the pandemic people wanted answers, but science had none to give. There was no way to do the reductionist studies that physicists used so successfully to do their basic research. You have to do the best you can with controlled randomized trials and with observational data, sifting and evaluating and (like Thomas Bayes did with statistics) learning as you go.
Too many people (including many experts) think the issues involved are simple and answers are easy. But in complex systems it’s very hard to tease out what cause will cause what effect. You need to draw on the new-ish scientific tool of causal inference, but few people know how to do that.
More’s the pity. Just like public health, global warming too involves making many judgment calls based on incomplete and uncertain data. Instead of using causal inference principles, politicians in my state of California bull ahead with bans of gasoline cars and gas-powered furnaces, boilers and stoves. They don’t even know what they don’t know, all the while saying that the science is settled.
Bans. Mandates. Madness.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
24 days ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

Hi, we’ve met before. You are quite right about things being complex, and doing the best you can with the incomplete data you have. And I’d agree that scientists (on both sides of the debates, very much including Tegnell) tend to overestimate how well they understand things – if you are in the business of developing understanding and using it for making decisions it feels bad to accept you do not have it yet.

However, the links you sent me then about causal inference showed me what looked like a purely mathematical data analysis technique. And an established author in the field who told – as an important but very much non-obvious truth – that the data analysis was not by itself enough you actually needed to consult people who understood the underlying mechanisms!! Which would seem to show a severe limit to what causal inference can and cannot do.
That is highly relevant to the global warming question. The conclusions in this field are very much built on a physical understanding on the effect of CO2 in the atmosphere on temperature, on the amount of CO2 and the persistence of CO2 once released, and (rather less perfect) of the kind of secondary mechanisms that will amplify or modify the original changes. So, it sounds to me you are saying that the data curves for global warming do not (yet?) show the kind of signature that causal inference requires, and that therefore there is nothing we need to do. Which to me is saying something not about global warming, but about the shortcomings of causal inference techniques.
To illustrate the point, I understand that an established expert in forecasting once said that forecasts of future global temperatures were useless. The story behind is that he was from the field of economics and stock market forecasting, and in that field it is indeed useless to look at a curve and try to extrapolate it into the future. But where we understand the underlying mechanisms (as in global warming and to a lesser extent in pandemics) we *are* able to use that understanding together with the current data to make decent predictions of future events.

Anyway, if you think causal inference shows clearly what should and should not be done about global warming, could you point us to a place where it says so?

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
24 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

First, these three women (and others in their group like Monica Gandhi) are all serious, mainstream scientists. They have thoughtfully brought some science to bear on the question of mask mandates with an approach that follows the principles of causal inference. I wish more people would rely on that kind of analysis rather than blindly trust in the opinions of experts.
Second, as to your question about global warming, I do NOT think that causal inference shows clearly what should and should not be done about global warming. I’m saying that those who ban gasoline cars and gas-powered furnace, boilers and stoves have shown no scientific or rational basis for those drastic measures they force on us. None.
Too many people follow the voices of Paul Ehrlich and Greta Thunberg despite the fact that they are blabbering nonsense.

Last edited 23 days ago by Carlos Danger
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
23 days ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

On the three women, I agree. I would like to see the counterarguments before making up my mind, though. There may not be scientific proof that the masks help, but as you say yourself we have to act before we have time to wait for final proof. As seen in the example of jumping out of airplanes with or without a parachute, you sometimes do not have to wait for the results of a proper controlled trial before deciding what to do.

On global warming, causal interference may not have a definitive answer. There is a rational one, though. Fact: Atmospheric CO2 is increasing. Fact: We are pouring large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Fact: Increased atmospheric CO2 is known to increase global temperature (other things being equal, to be sure). Fact: Global temperature has increased over the last century or two. Fact: Glacierss are melting all over the place. Prediction: The best model calculations we can do predict that continuing to increase CO2 will continue to heat the planet, with a number of predictable and unpleasant consequences. Risk: there are many less predictable or speculative consequences that could well happen, including sea level rises and drastic changes in ocean currents, that would be not just unpleasant but catastrophic. Faced with that scenario, do we try to do something that might make a difference, do we decide that ‘never mind, we are sure to be all right – at least in my lifetime’, or do we refuse to do anything until we have proof – by which time it will presumably be too late?

If causal inference has anything definite to say, I would like to see what it is. If it is just saying that ‘we are not sure yet’, I challenge whether that is reason enough to do nothing. If you had to jump out of an airplane in flight, would you put on a parachute first – when no properly controlled trial has ever proved that it is necessary?

Last edited 23 days ago by Rasmus Fogh
Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
21 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

First, as to masks, you should look at the counterarguments. They are out there for anyone to see. As these women point out, no one has found any.
And it’s not for lack of looking. People have been looking at whether masks prevent respiratory virus infections for over 100 years. That was a big question during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, and the answer then was an unequivocal no.
Your example of parachutes and controlled trials is irrelevant. Here we have both controlled trial evidence and observation evidence. (Causal inference is based on observations, not experiment.) Both say no.
Even mask proponents agree that cloth and surgical masks do nothing, and promote N95 masks. But they have no evidence that N95 masks work either — it’s just opinion.
A basic principle of public policy is the precautionary principle — that those proposing a measure bear the burden of showing that it does more good than harm. Mask mandate proponents have never met that burden.
Second, as to global warming. same thing. Those proposing bear the burden of proof by the real world, not from models and theories. They haven’t met it. Instead of a “climate spiraling out of control”, things are much the same as they have always been.

Fran Martinez
Fran Martinez
24 days ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

It is so complex that the basics of spreading are not well understood. For example, why dud the wave tend to saturate before everyone got it, why only about 30% of in household members caught it. There seems to be superspreaders that follow that 20-80 rule. Yet no one knows anything about what makes someone a superspreader or their dynamics. Just to name a few not known thing.

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
25 days ago

Well, we could all walk around in plastic bubbles, too. This is not medical advice, it’s social grooming. A prelude and adjunct to Groupthink. Remain human: resist Big Public Health. It is a Trojan Horse.

Andrew Roman
Andrew Roman
24 days ago

The real benefit of mask mandates is psychological rather than anti-viral. It makes the wearer feel like they are doing something to avoid infection rather than doing nothing, and also it sends a message that the wearer is a cautious, socially caring individual. It is also a political benefit to the agency requiring mask wearing because it gives the impression of prudence motivated by concern for public health.

The fact that mask wearing has little or no anti-infection efficacy is not widely understood, hence is of no concern to the agencies compelling it.

Bruce Edgar
Bruce Edgar
15 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Roman

Sounds like it’s a virtue-signaling placebo.

Russell Hogg
Russell Hogg
24 days ago

One of the reasons I doubt the efficacy of masks (apart from the tiny size of the vaccine, the massive gap between face and mask etc etc etc) is that although some studies were done the authorities seemed remarkably uninterested in funding a really high quality study. The only way I can make sense of this is that the mandates weren’t there to prevent infection but rather to ramp up fear so people would be more likely to do the things that the authorities did believe in, such as vaccination and distancing.

Curtis Girginoff
Curtis Girginoff
24 days ago

Freddie nailed the key point around 15:30, and that has been the critical question since the beginning of the pandemic and our policies toward it. The idea that we need to suspend the basic freedoms that form the bedrock of our societies requires a tremendous burden of proof, and one that has not been met. To surrender those fundamentals so casually is a good reminder that the societies that emanated from the wellspring of the enlightenment are hard-won and much more easily lost than many of us have come to believe.

Bruce Edgar
Bruce Edgar
15 days ago

The forced surrender to advisories–and the herd panic whipped by endless media scare tactics–created palpable fear that stampeded and divided entire populations. It was a hugely successful activity, a rehearsal of key tactics designed dominate and manage the beliefs and attitudes of entire populations. This well learned lesson was put to use immediatley: a fostering of blind acceptance of the CIA and EU narratives on the cause of the conflict in Ukraine.
Snookered again.

Phillip Arundel
Phillip Arundel
25 days ago

” The Scientific case against ‘Foot Binding”

As no DBCS (Double Blind Control Studies) were ever done to see if the old system of Chinese foot binding caused harm rather than help, it is impossible to make a scientific judgement on the issue.

There is good reason now to think that foot binding does reduce covid severity though, and so CDC now recommend it on women from 6 months onward.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
25 days ago

Man, aren’t you having fun. But there is a rather more serious example: No one has ever made a double-blind properly controlled study to prove that parachutes will protect you if you step out of airplanes in mid-air. In fact people who did jump out of planes without parachutes had a 100% survival rate (possibly because all the planes were standing in a hangar at the time). Can we rely on you and your friends to fight for your right to jump out of planes without parachutes? I would happily contribute to your ticket. Or could we accept that in addition to those double-blind studies, there is also a role for inherent probabilities?

Phillip Arundel
Phillip Arundel
24 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Actually Rasmus, in WWII, under Stalin, who had a way about war fighting not everyone does – the Russian Army did do airborne assaults without parachutes. There were jumps made into snow at very low altitude, skimming the snow, with the plans flying just above stall speed. I never heard of the injury rate, but it may not have been worse than some Allied Glider assaults.

And let us not forget – no foot bound Chinese woman ever did die of covid-19. Fallow the science.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
24 days ago

….. as long as medicine (and society) sees the infectious agent as the main cause of illness and keeps disregarding the role the host plays in infectious illness, these mask no mask, isolation no isolation discussion and vaccine religion will remain ongoing.
If the medical fraternity starts to recognise that the host plays at least 50% or more role in infectious illness, debates will change. But there is not as much money to be made in that approach… so, will not happen soon…

Fran Martinez
Fran Martinez
24 days ago

“the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Atlantic, among other outlets”

It sounds like many papers, but they really are the same thing. The idea is just to make you believe they are independent data points, but they are as correlated as it can get.

Last edited 24 days ago by Fran Martinez
Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
23 days ago
Reply to  Fran Martinez

Excellent point. Like Amazon review bots.

j watson
j watson
24 days ago

Agree with much of this. The scientific basis is increasingly v ropey. That said you just wonder a little about any placebo effect, and if some folks are less tense what health benefit might be derived? For that reason while I might think bit stupid to be wearing a mask I chill out about someone else doing it. It may be helping in ways important to them. The imposition though a different matter.
Whilst on ‘science’ I saw that Tucker Carlson segment saying evidence c29 top class athletes died suddenly whilst competing at top class level in young age pre Covid c 2018-19 in a quoted paper and now it’s jumped c1500 post vaccine. Pretty stark headline. Dug into where the data was from. The pre Covid research was a multiple peer reviewed paper. The c1500 came from a website ‘Good Sciencing’ – yep alarm bells ringing already with a name like that don’t they. Dug further into the article and there’s no actual research. It’s just a media trawl of deaths and obituaries. Pele is named in the 1500, and things like some Thai princess aged 44 out jogging etc etc. Forgive me but didn’t Pele die a week or so ago in old age of Cancer? You get it – basically a complete load of tosh, and certainly not peer reviewed science. Yet here it is being spouted on Fox news which has a large audience. And you know what, lots of numpties will believe it because it’s what they want to hear and won’t check it out for the utter garbage it is.
The point being when UnHerd publishes good science, peer reviewed, it’s worth reading. But it’s always worth all of us digging into the quality of that science and being conscious of not falling prey to confirmatory bias.

Last edited 24 days ago by j watson
Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
23 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Absolutely. People have to learn to read critically or they just get manipulated. There is an excellent substack called Sensible Medicine which features quite a number of articles by Vinay Prasad who hammers on this sort of thing using current research articles as they come out which I’ve found very illuminating.

Fred D. Fulton
Fred D. Fulton
22 days ago

Good points, gentlemen. After ‘freedom of expression’ — the next most important quality we must pursue as a society, regardless of one’s ideological stripes, is honesty. Claptrap cited by circus clowns such as Carlson should be called out for what it is, regardless of how much you believe the underlying assertions to be true. The fact that ‘the left’ picks up on misleading and rigged science is no reason for me or you to follow suit.
Getting back to freedom of expression: while I don’t agree with people who choose to wear masks, and those who believe they are doing God’s work by getting repeated covid-shots, I respect the freedom of these people to pursue their own health plans, their desires, their goals — and their right to annunciate same.
Of course, I hate when they elect corrupt, deceitful leadership, as is far too common (certainly in Canada, my home and native land), but approaches such as dishonesty, name-calling, threats, violence, etc are not viable.

Christopher Peter
Christopher Peter
24 days ago

The additional problem with many of these studies is that they assume “high quality”, “clinical” masks are used, and used properly. In practice, of course, very many people just wrapped bits of cloth around their face, frequently touching them and often re-using them day after day. Such unhygienic practices are just as likely to be vectors as preventers of disease transmission. I will be convinced about the effectiveness of masks when I see repeatable, statistically significant evidence supporting it, from studies that take into account how masks are actually used in the real world.
The serious point here is that, while masks may continue to be “advised” in certain settings and used by some, the quality of evidence perhaps need not be so high. But as soon as we have talk of mandates, that bar needs to be much higher. What we have right now in terms of scientific evidence is simply not good enough to justify compulsion.

Arild Brock
Arild Brock
24 days ago

HOLES WITH A SHAPE
I think the most striking aspect of the above interview is the degree of “tolerance” towards the mask craziness & fraud. Why don’t interviewer as well as interviewees tear their hair?
Instead, they look for minimal craziness explanations. Sayers’ mild question in this respect, the scientists answer by pointing to a wish for DOING something.
Strictly speaking, the scientists then step out of their science and into politics. Our politicians, on their part, give the impression of being administrators of pure science (pure even in a double sense). There is a leadership-shaped hole in politics. Sensible scientists like Smelkinson, Bienen, Jay Bhattacharya and others try to make up for it.
But a better place to look for explanations would in my opinion be the God-shaped hole in our societies. There you find why people wear masks. People, as well as politicians, are not driven by a wish to DO something. They are driven by a wish to BE SOMEONE.
People want to be decent people. Unfortunately, however, the politicians have taken up the role of pagan priests and given us masks.
Many years ago, I was told the story of “the smart and empathic missionary”. Have you heard it? When facing local superstition (in the form of unsensible fear of pumpkins in nature) the smart and empathic missionary joined the locals’ fearful attitude and only gradually nudged them out of fear. The righteous missionary, however, jumped to the truth and was chased out of the village.
However, when Moses came down from the Sinai mountains and saw his people dance around the golden calf, he did not join the dance.
 

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
25 days ago

Interesting, and sounds fairly convincing.

Does anyone have any good arguments in favour of mask use (E-GL)?

Dog Eared
Dog Eared
25 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

It’s been suggested that it could inhibit spread of those who were infected and in the brief contagious period, by reducing flow of saliva during coughing and sneezing. Ok, acknowledge that, but it’s a weak scenario for forcing everyone to wear one all the time.

Arild Brock
Arild Brock
24 days ago
Reply to  Dog Eared

Yes, and when you are symptomatically ill, you should “quarantine” yourself anyway. Simple and sensible! Don’t bow to science & state!

Phillip Arundel
Phillip Arundel
25 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

In a double blind study done in some country I forget – may have been Holland, or maybe Berlin or Thailand… But it was found the effectiveness of wearing a mask for reducing covid transmission is exactly the same as the placebo group who wore butt plugs instead. I await Parliament’s response when this study is released. Smart money is going on vasaline stocks.

John Davis
John Davis
18 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I looked into this a while back. There is some evidence that high quality masks provide some protection and reduce spread when used correctly. So I am personally fairly happy to wear one when required to. However, I did not find evidence that mask mandates were effective overall, and I am not in favour of them for that reason.
I should add that the evidence is by no means conclusive, and I accept I could easily be wrong.

Last edited 18 days ago by John Davis
Russell Hogg
Russell Hogg
24 days ago

I’m surprised rapid tests ‘before seeing granny’ aren’t effective. My experience of the tests are that they were invariably negative until I got Covid and the positive ten days in a row. And a very solid line to start with gradually getting fainter. No false negatives on any of the ten days.

As for masks. Complete waste of time.

Iris C
Iris C
22 days ago

I wonder if any study has been done to show that restricting breathing by wearing a mask and taking the damp mask on and of throughout the day is detrimental to health? Common sense tells me that it is!

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
21 days ago

Any mask not up to FFP3 standard is largely a waste of time.
Everyone scientific knows that:
https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/upgrading-ppe-for-staff-working-on-covid-19-wards-cut-hospital-acquired-infections-dramatically
Most masks you see people wearing are cheap, useless rubbish. And compounded further by being incorrectly or carelessly worn. Placebo masks.
But this article also is just a self-pitying polemic.
High-quality FFP3 masks, properly fitted, work well. People working in car paint-shops and in environments (such as agricultural) with toxic airborne spores etc wear them for a reason, for heaven’s sake.  
And since various viruses, including covid, vary in severity according to the amount of pathogen to which one is exposed, even preventing inhalation of most of it is still better than nothing.
You are aware, aren’t you, that covid primarily is an airborne pathogen.
If you put a barrier between you and said pathogen, you minimise your exposure to it. Doh. 
It’s not difficult to understand.
Nor is there any great tyrannical conspiracy to force anyone to wear masks. 
This is a straw man piece, a lot of first-world-problem style whining.
See my short blog on freedom-fighters like you:
https://ayenaw.com/2021/10/23/tyranny-tourism/
Onwards to the revolution comrades lol.

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
21 days ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

These women are not right-wing warriors fighting against the tyranny of mask mandates. They are scientists examining the evidence to try and find out what works and what doesn’t.

laura m
laura m
21 days ago

I live in Berkeley, over-educated population, masks everywhere still. Sanctimonious Idiots.

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
25 days ago

I don’t know why people get so uptight seeing other people wearing masks. It’s a free country. If they feel safer or more comfortable wearing a mask then that’s fine. It doesn’t affect anyone else. It just doesn’t matter. I don’t wear a mask but I know people who do and I can tell you they don’t expect other people to wear masks if they don’t want to.
Can I also say that science has taken a battering in the last few years. Do we all believe the stuff they’ve come out with, experts or not? You just have to make decisions for yourself. I hear they are going to encourage everyone to take statins now. How many of you are going to follow that advice?

Last edited 25 days ago by Steve Elliott
Phillip Arundel
Phillip Arundel
25 days ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

Because the mask is the symbol of our enslavement to the totalitarian Corportaist Oligarchy. It is the Scarlet letter we must wear (to avoid making a analogy that woke prohibits. Like

‘The German military commander in France ordered all Jews over six years of age to wear, on the left side of the chest, a yellow star the size of a person’s palm, with the inscription “Juif” inside. This ordinance was issued on June 7, 1942, although bureaucratic resistance on the part of French officials meant that a similar measure was never ...”)

Which I must not quote – as that is forbidden in this modern Police State.

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
24 days ago

What total rubbish! Nobody is wearing a mask right now because they are enslaved to anything. We are free to wear or not wear a mask as we want. Get a sense of perspective for god’s sake. You are demanding that we don’t wear a mask and that’s tyranny just the same as being told that we must wear one. The same as it’s a free choice whether we get vaccinated or not. It’s supposed to be a free country.

Christopher Peter
Christopher Peter
24 days ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

I personally don’t get uptight when I see other people wearing masks. It is, as you say, their choice. The problem arises with mask mandates, where that freedom of choice is removed. In the recent past we had those, and some continue to push loudly for their reinstatement.

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
24 days ago

I agree. Even worse is a mandate to get vaccinated. Thankfully I don’t think that happened in the UK.

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
24 days ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

There are a few problems. The obvious ones about mandating things without any real evidence.
But it also teaches people to accept this kind of poor quality science if it makes them feel better. And it creates an atmosphere of fear and anxiety.
I know people who still wear masks religiously, and while they are not telling others they need to do the same, they certainly do feel, deep down, that others are being careless, and they themselves have unrealistic ideas about the nature of disease that are not particularly mentally healthy.
There will always people who choose to do odd things for their health, but why we should expect that to be seen as the morally better position, or expect scientific authorities to uphold that, is not at all clear to me. I don’t see them going out of their way to tell people who carry rocks in their pockets for health that it is effective, quite the opposite.

Kevin R
Kevin R
25 days ago

Interesting article.
In the debate over mask wearing as a defence against the spread of covid, no one ever seems to mention the fact that medical staff have been wearing masks in clinical settings for decades.
Are we to believe that this is pointless too?
Or have RCTs suggested otherwise? If so, how can a mask lower transmission rates in a clinical environment but not in a classroom?

Matt Masotti
Matt Masotti
25 days ago
Reply to  Kevin R

Any responsible nurse will tell you about procedures, types of masks like N95 and their actual situational effectiveness. It isn’t generalized to “wearing masks”. There is context and important detail to this, missing from most moralist’s binary approach to mask/no mask.
The clinical scenario couldn’t be further from the pedestrian walking alone, outside with any old mask thinking they know anything at all about science, under the illusion that they are helping themselves or anyone else.

stephen archer
stephen archer
25 days ago
Reply to  Kevin R

As far as I’ve read, masks are not used in a clinical environment to stop the spread of viruses. They’re to avoid bacterial infection in operations (wounds etc.) and to stop blood splatter. The human mouth is a bacterial jungle and if a dentist’s mouth is 30 cm. away from the patient’s mouth, it could make sense? Added to that, they don’t use the masks for weeks on end, putting them into their pockets or handbags and taking them out, putting them on and taking them off multiple times. If people had only listened to informed sources such as Anders Tegnell in Sweden then the mask hysteria may not have resulted. He also stressed the Peltzman effect as a good reason for not proposing their use. China was delighted to provide the world with these close to useless items for the general public, making enormous profits from the panic reactions of decision makers in the west.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
25 days ago
Reply to  Kevin R

They are not worn on the same way. It is pointless to except anyone, but particularly children, to wear masks to the same standard as historically applied in clinical settings – to wear masks of the same standard, regularly replaced, and not used at all when not required. Until Covid, masks were not typically worn in most clinical settings – on wards, or in GP surgeries for example. They were primarily worn during surgery, to promote as sterile an environment as possible. Not all day every day, and not primarily to prevent routine respiratory infections in the general population. Even then any benefit was probably pretty marginal. When used in other settings by members of the public, masks were typically worn for hours on end, and then stuffed in a pocket to be reused again and again. That resulted in all the disadvantages of masks with none of the (dubious) benefits.

Phillip Arundel
Phillip Arundel
25 days ago
Reply to  Kevin R

The medical mask is to stop drops of spittle from the med person putting bacteria into a patient when you have them opened up – doing internal things to them.

It was Never to stop airborne viruses – because it Does Not.

The only class situation this would be useful in is Dental School Class where they are doing procedures on each other for clinical practice. I assume those are not the classes you refer to.

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
25 days ago
Reply to  Kevin R

Surgical masks during surgery are worn to help keep the operating room sterile, providing a fluid barrier to help cut down on the bacteria from the surgeon’s nose and mouth that might otherwise fall into the patient’s open wound. Or more technically,

Surgical face masks (SFMs) provide a physical barrier between bacteria of oropharyngeal and nasopharyngeal origin and an open patient wound. Wearing a SFM in the OR is one of many long standing preventative practices, yet controversy exists as to the clinical effectiveness of SFMs in reducing the frequency of SSIs [surgical site infections].

Surgical masks do little, if anything, to stop viruses (much smaller than bacteria) from spreading. During the pandemic medical staff used personal protective equipment (PPE), which include N95 respirators, to try to protect themselves from being infected. That probably helped some, but many medical staff still got infected. Viruses are tiny, and can often find a way.
Mask wearing by the general public has long been studied as a measure to fight respiratory viruses. During the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, masks were often mandated. They were found not to work. Many studies have been done since, all of them failing to show any benefit. The WHO recognized this in a report it published in 2019 just before this pandemic started.

Philip Clayton
Philip Clayton
25 days ago

There appear to be two major problems with this article. The first is that it must be nigh on impossible to do gold standard research in this area simply because two groups, one masked and unmasked, would have to be exposed to exactly the same levels of virus for the same periods etc.

“…unmasked five-year-olds had similar Covid-19 case rates to masked six-year-olds, the age at which masking was mandated.”

This is hardly earth shattering as children that young are far less likely to succumb to the virus anyway.

What we do know, indisputably, is that millions of people in the UK wore masks for very long periods in 2020-2021 and in the winter of 2021-2022 rates of flu were extremely low compared to historical numbers, and Covid rates of infection also fell, though that would be more attributable to widespread vaccination. Now look at the experience with flu this winter.

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
25 days ago
Reply to  Philip Clayton

Masks are somewhat effective indoors in confined spaces where people are in close proximity. They are pretty much useless and unnecessary outdoors. Mandating their use is a civil liberties issue: rights of the individual versus the group, mediated by Big Public Health. The controversy will continue as long as some people hold safety to be the highest good while others hold freedom of movement to be paramount.
In comparing flu seasons, you need to take into account the much greater impact of lock downs and social distancing, which impose crippling social and economic burdens on people. Like COVID, influenza viruses are only lethal to a small minority of the population, and then only when they lead to irreversible pneumonia.
While it is true that there are social and economic costs associated with especially severe influenza outbreaks, they pale by comparison to those imposed during the COVID pandemic. And, consider this: flu vaccines, which are usually if not always effective, continue to be underutilized by the public. And, infection confers immunity. Herd immunity is still vital to the health of the species.

Given these considerations, should mandatory masking of the public be imposed arbitrarily for every influenza season? It seems imprudent to me. And not justified by medical science.

Last edited 25 days ago by Gerald gwarcuri
Phillip Arundel
Phillip Arundel
25 days ago
Reply to  Gerald Arcuri

All public wearing of masks do is harm – harm to everyone and society. They are one thing – the symbol of your subjugation. They show you are owned by your government. They are Fas* ist tools of oppression. Refuse them!

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
24 days ago

You are behaving exactly like those you are calling fascists. Save your outrage for when people start talking about compulsory vaccination.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
23 days ago
Reply to  Philip Clayton

You missed the point of the five and six year olds study. It’s valuable because it’s very nearly a natural RCT. Close enough in age that presumably they have the same likelihood of infection; five year olds we’re not masked but six year olds were. If masks did anything at all in such a large group you should see a difference in infection rates. They did not.