Reductio Ad Californium

You knew it had to happen: wearing face masks in restaurants is ridiculous, since you have to take them off to eat or drink. So as a practical matter, we wear them for 15 seconds each way as we walk to our tables. A sensible person would say that the whole farce of wearing masks in restaurants should be abandoned. But that person doesn’t live in California:

It is unclear how putting on a mask and taking it off again every 20 seconds or so can possibly do anyone any good. Perhaps California needs to get stricter: it could adopt a regulation requiring that all restaurant food be blended and served in liquid form. Then diners could keep their masks on at all times while drinking liquified meat and potatoes through a straw.

Do masks do any good? I have seen many charts plotting the dates of mask mandates in a given state or country against cases, deaths, etc. For example, there are a number of such charts here. These basic empirical data provide no evidence that mask mandates have any effect whatsoever.

In the 14th Century, the Black Death killed something close to one-half the population of Europe. People at the time had no idea what caused the disease, but a common theory was that it resulted from “bad air.” (This was not entirely foolish, since in addition to flea bites, the disease was transmitted, airborne, from person to person, much like COVID.) How to counteract “bad air”? Many Europeans picked flowers and went about with flowers pressed against their noses, hoping that the flowers’ good smell would counteract the bad air that carried the disease.

I think this is a nearly exact parallel to the manner in which people now walk around with masks on, in the hope that masks will protect them from infection. The difference, of course, is that we are dealing with a disease that is much nearer the common cold than the Black Death. We are no smarter, and a whole lot weaker, than Europeans of the 14th Century.

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