Kevin Roche: Mask delusion [with comment by Paul]

Minneapolis and St. Paul have just imposed mask mandates again. Foreseeing where we were headed, Healthy Skeptic’s Kevin Roche submitted the column below to the Star Tribune. The Star Tribune “has actually been pretty good about publishing” his columns, he writes, but he “apparently went a heresy too far this week.” They declined this column. “[I]f the stupid masks can’t stop Delta, how the hell would anyone think they will stop Omicron? But I see doctors everyday on Twitter claiming masks work and wear N95s, maybe two or three of them. They have no evidence to support that recommendation. This is simply, as I titled the piece, a mas(k) delusion.” Kevin writes:

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The policy response to the epidemic has been marked by a series of unprecedented and untested actions. There is generally no evidence to support the intervention at its initiation, other than an “expert’s” belief that it will have the desired effect, which typically is slowing or suppressing spread of Covid-19. And once initiated, the process of evaluating evidence of effectiveness becomes highly politicized. So it is with the notion that widespread wearing of masks has any impact on transmission of Covid-19 in the community.

When forced masking was first discussed, I read the existing literature and found no evidentiary support for the practice. And despite the best efforts of what can only be described as the mask religionists, there continues to be no credible data or research favoring a positive impact. Other than on my blog I have avoided discussing those views, because you can’t change an emotional belief with reason. But as with many things in the epidemic, events in the passage of time make avoiding a reconsideration of those beliefs very difficult. And the tide has begun to turn in regard to the impact of masking.

In the last few weeks two Democratic Governors have come out strongly against renewed mask mandates, saying there is no evidence that they work, and pointing to neighboring states with longstanding mandates and very high transmission levels. The Atlantic magazine, the epitome of woke progressivism, recently published an article debunking one of the CDC’s worst mask studies, which was widely used to support forcing children to wear masks for hours and hours, which I view as akin to child abuse. There simply is no well-designed study which shows any impact of mask wearing, much less mask mandates, on the community spread of Covid-19.

How do we know masks do nothing to slow transmission? I always encourage people to evaluate any intervention at two levels, the individual one and the population one. At an individual level, in an isolated encounter between a person and the virus, a mask may prevent exposure and infection. But even if a mask were 90% effective, and they aren’t, over large numbers of encounters at some point you will be exposed. And the best mannequin head study, one which tracked particle flow for hours, not a few minutes, found that masks during extended wearing funneled viral aerosols into the respiratory tract and concentrated them on inner and outer mask surfaces where they eventually were pushed or pulled through.

I have jokingly referred to masks as virus collection devices, but that is exactly what they are. A study done by the UK public health agency found that among all surfaces, Covid-19 survived second longest on masks, up to 20 hours. Eventually that virus finds its way into the wearer’s or others’ respiratory system. It isn’t just Covid-19 that is collected, and scientists have been remarkably incurious about the total number and type of pathogens collected in a mask over hours of wearing, and the ultimate fate of those pathogens. This lack of research is almost certainly politically motivated.

At a population level, one has only to look at any chart of cases versus population mask-wearing level (I avoid comparisons with mandate presence, since that may or may not correlate with actual wearing behavior, but those comparisons are even worse for masks). These charts constantly show that there is no correlation. Minnesota is a perfect example, in which the level of cases after the mask mandate was promulgated through when it was ended never dipped to the level before the mandate. Anyone who says it would have been worse without masks should take a good luck at the curves, especially pre-vaccine last fall, and explain how that could be true.

As I noted above, it is particularly egregious to force masks on children, who despite ongoing misinformation regarding serious illness and hospitalizations (as Dr. Fauci finally admitted, most have nothing to do with treatment for Covid-19, but rather reflect incidental positives on admission) have a minuscule risk from the virus, but whom we are terrorizing and depriving of normal social development and interactions by forced mask wearing which makes no difference in their risk of being infected. Those who claim that children are resilient and fine are ignoring the clear data showing a massive uptick in mental health issues.

The state has evidence in its possession showing that masks have no impact, either in general or in schools, but refuses to release that information and is stonewalling my Data Practices Act requests, which is itself evidence that they know the lack of effect. It is time for everyone to ask themselves what evidence really supports masking as an effective tool against spread and why we continue to encourage, much less force, futile and potentially damaging measures.

PAUL ADDS: I have no scientifically or evidentiary-based position on the question of mask efficacy. However, I know there are two sides to the question.

Readers interested in seeing the other side can go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, among other places.

For a good article critical of pro-mask conclusions some have drawn from certain studies, go here.

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