Government bureaucrats first told us, inconsistently, that 1) masks were useless, and 2) we should save them for medical personnel. Now that advice has changed: on the theory that wearing a mask might prevent an asymptomatic person from passing on the virus, we are being pressured to wear masks of some kind when in public.
This has created an interesting sociological picture. Last week, my family went up North for a few days on a big lake near the Canadian border. We noticed that once you got outside the Twin Cities, hardly anyone was wearing a mask. On the other hand, after we returned I drove to downtown Minneapolis for the first time in a couple of months. The streets were nearly deserted. I saw around a dozen people, on the average one per block. The majority were young men, maybe 25 years old, generally walking along with no one within 50 yards of them. Every single one wore a mask.
Mask wearing has become a form of virtue signaling. Do they do any good? Who knows? But wearing one shows that you are a slavish adherent to authority. Not wearing one suggests that you might be a rebel.
Beyond the sociological aspect, there are actual facts. Neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock argues persuasively that face masks do more harm than good:
As for the scientific support for the use of face mask, a recent careful examination of the literature, in which 17 of the best studies were analyzed, concluded that, “None of the studies established a conclusive relationship between mask/respirator use and protection against influenza infection.”
Now that we have established that there is no scientific evidence necessitating the wearing of a face mask for prevention, are there dangers to wearing a face mask, especially for long periods? Several studies have indeed found significant problems with wearing such a mask. This can vary from headaches, to increased airway resistance, carbon dioxide accumulation, to hypoxia, all the way to serious life-threatening complications.
Here, as in other respects, Sweden has been nonconformist. Why is Sweden not recommending face masks to the public?
“Face masks in public spaces do not provide any greater protection to the population,” Johan Carlson from the Swedish Public Health Agency Folkhälsomyndigheten said at a press conference on May 13th.
Prime minister Stefan Löfven told reporters at the same press conference: “There is a risk of a false sense of security, that you believe that you can’t be infected if you wear a face mask.”
In the absence of any substantial scientific support, face mask wearing has become a largely political act. If you love authority, if you need to be told what to do–right or wrong!–you probably are wearing a mask. If you tend to be skeptical of authority (or if you remember that not long ago, the authorities were telling us not to wear masks), you likely aren’t. Like so many things in America these days, wearing face masks is more a marker than a practical action.
PAUL ADDS: I am surprised that in our D.C. suburb, where few conservatives reside, considerably less than half of the people I see on my walks wear masks. On the other hand, almost all of the people I see whom I know to be liberal have masks on. On Friday, one of them chided me for not wearing one.
There are lots of foreigners in our neighborhood and they like to be outdoors. Most of them don’t wear masks. They help account for the fact that mask wearers don’t predominate around here.