Despite the evidence facial coverings are ineffective protection against the coronavirus, mask mandates are back.
The emergence over the summer of new strains of COVID-19, including the BA.2.86 variant, triggered the reimposition of mask mandates at scattered locations around the country.
Mask mandates were reinstated at two hospitals in New York City, one in San Francisco, and at Morris Brown College in Atlanta and Dillard University in New Orleans, as well as for about half the staff at Hollywood’s Lionsgate Film Studios in Santa Monica.
The effectiveness of masks in preventing COVID-19 infections has been questioned from the pandemic’s beginning.
Citing over 170 studies and articles on mask effectiveness and harms in a December 20, 2021 article for the Brownstone Institute, Paul Alexander, M.D., an epidemiologist and former senior adviser to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the COVID-19 response in 2020, wrote, “To date, the evidence has been stable and clear that masks do not work to control the virus and they can be harmful and especially to children.”
For example, a research review by Cochrane, which Marty Makary, M.D. of Johns Hopkins University called “… the most authoritative evidence body in all of medicine and has been for decades,” found “there is no statistically significant difference in infection rates between the masked and unmasked group in any of the (clinical) trials.”
A study shared on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website in 2023 found tight-fitting N95 masks could expose wearers to dangerous levels of total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs).
Researchers at Jeonbuk National University in South Korea examined two types of medical-grade masks and several reusable masks. They found these masks released eight times the safe level of TVOCs.
“Extreme fears about the lethality of covid may have led to decisions that were counterproductive,” Stuart Fisher, M.D., an internist in New York, told the Daily Mail. “Covid won’t be going away for a long time, if ever. We desperately need policies that do not fracture our society while providing minimum protection.”
Fauci Is Back
Despite the growing evidence of mask ineffectiveness, former White House chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci, M.D., supported masks in a CNN interview, on September 2.
“I’m concerned people will not abide by recommendations,” Fauci said. On an “individual basis,” many studies “show there is an advantage,” Fauci said.
But Alexander concluded in 2021 that masks alone—without additional personal protective equipment (PPE) or other measures—were of doubtful benefit.
“It is not unreasonable to conclude that surgical and cloth masks, used as they currently are being used (without other forms of PPE protection), have no impact on controlling the transmission of COVID-19 virus,” Alexander wrote.
In an August 24 post on X, formerly Twitter, Florida Surgeon General Joseph A. Ladapo, M.D, Ph.D., responding to calls for masks during the current uptick in COVID-19 infections, said, “These terrible policies only work with your cooperation. How about refusing to cooperate. …”
Particle Size Matters
Masks can’t stop viruses, says Stanley Young, Ph.D., a statistician and Shifting Sands Project Director for the National Association of Scholars, who previously worked with Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, and the National Institute of Statistical Sciences, a nongovernmental research organization.
“COVIDs, like influenzas, are a small, air-borne virus, much smaller than the pore size of a medical mask,” said Young. “Multiple studies in the mask literature, including randomized clinical trials, combined with a January 2023 Cornell University meta-analysis, found masks had no effect. Simply put, masks are not effective in stopping an airborne virus.”
‘Symbolize the Power of the State’
The science shows clearly masks do more harm than good, says Chris Talgo, editorial director of the Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News.
“This is especially true for children, who were forced to wear masks for years on end, which studies show had a detrimental impact on their learning and development of social skills,” said Talgo. “We are witnessing a disturbing trend as mask mandates creep back into society.”
Masking orders aren’t to protect the public, says Craig Rucker, president of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.
“During the pandemic, mask mandates came to symbolize the power of the state and its political allies over the populous at large,” said Rucker. “With the waning of the pandemic, that power diminished. The emergence of new COVID variants might be welcomed by certain segments of society eager to recapture the power they wielded with such authority only a short time ago.”
Bonner Russell Cohen, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.