By now everyone in the world is getting used to wearing masks. It’s safe to say we’re all tired of this “new normal”, but we’re now conditioned to believe it’s necessary. But do masks really make a difference?
The answer to that question is elusive. In the beginning of this pandemic, we were told not to wear masks, unless you were a healthcare worker or first responder. Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted in February, “Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who the press has elevated to near-divine authority, said, “Wearing a mask might make people feel a little bit better” but “it’s not providing the perfect protection that people think it is.” His statement reflected scientific consensus, and was consistent with the World Health Organization’s guidance.
Dr. Joseph Ladapo, professor at UCLA Medical School, gives us more up-to-date insights in an Op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. Weak arguments for mask wearing include preventing asymptomatic transmission of the virus. This has always been true of influenza where some estimates show up to a third of patients with influenza are asymptomatic. But no one ever called for mask wearing with influenza. Anecdotal evidence of outbreaks in isolated communities is never a basis for nation-wide policy.
High value evidence comes from a study published in Health Affairs in June which found that those U.S. states with mask mandates had 2% lower growth rates of Covid infection compared with those who didn’t. But this difference will certainly not prevent the wide-spread dissemination of the virus.
Ladapo states, “The most reasonable conclusion from the available scientific evidence is that community mask mandates have—at most—a small effect on the course of the pandemic. But you wouldn’t know that from watching cable news or sitting next to a mother being forced off an airplane because her small children aren’t able to keep a mask on.”
Claims that low mask compliance is responsible for rising case counts are also not supported by Gallup data, which show that the percentage of Americans reporting wearing masks has been high and relatively stable since June. Health officials and political leaders have assigned mask mandates a gravity unsupported by empirical research.
Ladapo suggests the most unscientific use of masks is for those outdoors. One contact-tracing study identified only a single incident of outdoor transmission among 318 outbreaks. Even the Rose Garden nomination ceremony for Justice Amy Coney Barrett, which the media giddily labeled a “superspreader” event, likely wasn’t; transmission more likely occurred during indoor gatherings associated with the ceremony.
Ladapo says the oversized attention to wearing masks has the unintended consequence of delaying public acceptance of the unavoidable truth. For a novel coronavirus, one that the world has never been previously exposed to, nothing short of inhumane lockdowns, and all of their unacceptable consequences, is likely to stop the spread of the virus. The best approach is to protect the most vulnerable and learn to live with the virus until an effective vaccine and the achievement of herd immunity brings the pandemic to an end.
He concludes, “Until the reality of viral spread in the U.S.—with or without mask mandates—is accepted, political leaders will continue to feel justified in keeping schools and businesses closed, robbing young people of the opportunity to invest in their futures, and restricting activities that make life worthwhile. Policy makers ought to move forward with more wisdom and sensibility to mitigate avoidable costs to human life and well-being.”