Media outlets heralded a mask study, based on modeling, that concluded universal mask use could save 130,000 lives, while largely ignoring a randomized controlled trial that found masks worn in public offer virtually no protection against the SARS CoV-2 Virus.
The modeling study (UW), by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation, was published on October 23 in Nature Medicine. It predicted one half million people in the U.S. could die from COVID-19 by February 2021 and that universal mask use could save 130,000 of those lives.
The randomized controlled trial by Danish researchers of 4,862 participants was published on November 18 in Annals of Internal Medicine. It found that, of the 95 participants who became infected with COVID-19, 42 wore masks while 53 did not wear masks.
“The recommendation to wear surgical masks to supplement other public health measures did not reduce the SARS-CoV 2 infection rates among wearers by more than 50 percent in the community with modest infection rates, some degree of social-distancing, and uncommon general mask use,” the authors state.
Media Outlet Coverage
A Google search showed widely different coverage of the studies by major news organizations.
- Stat News published an article on the UW study, October 23, entitled “Universal mask use could save 130,000 U.S. Lives by the End of February, New Study Estimates.” It did not cover the Danish study.
- New York Times published an article on the UW study, October 23, entitled “The Price for Not Wearing Masks: Perhaps 130,000 Lives.” It published an article on the Danish study, November 24, entitled, “A New Study Questions Whether Masks Protect Wearers. You Need to Wear Them Anyway.”
- Washington Post did not publish an article on the UW study but did cover the study by the Danish researchers with an article on November 20. The article was entitled, “Health Experts Dispute Conservatives Claim that New Study Finds Masks are Ineffective.”
- National Public Radio (NPR) covered the UW study, in an article entitled, “Universal Mask Wearing Could Save Some 130,000 Lives in the U.S., Study.” NPR did not cover the Danish study.
- Los Angeles Times covered both studies. The article on the UW study, published on October 23, was entitled, “New Forecast Shows Why Masks are Easiest and Cheapest Way to Save U.S. Lives.” The article on the Danish Study, published on November 20, was entitled, “Face Mask Trial Didn’t Stop Coronavirus Spread, But It Shows Why More Mask Wearing is Needed.”
- Wall Street Journal provided no news coverage of the mask studies but did publish an op-ed on November 12 regarding the UW study, entitled “Case for Mask Mandate Rests on Bad Data.”
AnneMarie Schieber (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor of Health Care News.