The tragedy of masks

July 20, 2020


Face masks really do matter. The scientific evidence is growing.

New research suggests that face coverings help reduce the transmission of droplets, though some masks are more protective than others.

The above headlines appeared last week in The Wall Street Journal.

“Evidence is growing”; “New research”. What about all the old research?

In 2007, after reading an article about the 2003 SARs epidemic and what worked to mitigate it, I bought N95 masks. In 2013 I read a more poignant article and bought more masks. I didn’t save the articles because I never thought I would read …

“Seriously people- stop buying masks!” from the US Surgeon General. From January to early April this year, the WHO, CDC and countless others made similar if less pithy statements. And it was bi-partisan. On April 3, Dr. Howard Zucker, Cuomo’s commissioner of health said, “There’s no data to support the effectiveness of face masks.” A succinct sentence that was entirely false.

There “was ample data” that predated COVID in the National Institute of Health’s National Library of Medicine (and elsewhere) “to support the effectiveness of masks.” For example, a March 2014 paper stated “… the use of facemasks has proven to be an effective barrier to curb the aerosol spread of such diseases …” Or these papers, discovered after less than five minutes of searching:

* 2007: Risk of transmission of airborne infection during train commute based on mathematical model;

* 2007: Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses: systematic review;

* 2008: Professional and home-made face masks reduce exposure to respiratory infections among the general population

After experiencing the 2003 SARs epidemic, the Asians certainly understood the benefits of masks. Donning masks at the moment of illness has become almost reflexive. Taiwan encouraged (and rationed) the use of face masks. As of July 18, Taiwan has recorded seven deaths (0.3 per million) and 455 cases (19 per million). The economy was not shut down. Schools and restaurants remained open. Although less impressive, Japan has kept deaths to eight per million and cases to 191 per million without shutting down the economy. Vietnam, which did shut down, has had just 382 cases and 0 (zero) deaths. The US, by contrast, is up to 11,577 cases per million and 432 deaths per million.

Were our leaders and experts collectively ignorant about prior – or were they lying? The evidence points to the latter. In that same tweet, the U.S. Surgeon General wrote “[Masks] are not effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!” The West was short of masks and other personal-protective-equipment. Best to lie to protect healthcare workers. Don’t ask the public to save N95 masks for healthcare workers and use alternatives – scarfs, homemade masks, paper masks – which work reasonably well if used by all. Even though that would have reduced cases which would have better protected healthcare workers. A more detailed explanation doesn’t fit pithy sound bites and tweets.

Where was the media? With the exception of an op. ed. in The New York Times (probably got the editor fired), the media generally went along with the narrative. Why? Too lazy to do any original research or fact-checking? Concur with the Noble Lie? Wokeness given that many we-only-follow-the-science Democrats also pushed the narrative? Why did the media not hold everyone to account?

On July 14 Robert R. Redfield, MD, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, co-authored a Journal of the American Medical Association editorial titled “Universal Masking to Prevent SARS-CoV-2 Transmission—The Time Is Now” and then went on TV and said “If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really think in the next four, six, eight weeks, we could bring this epidemic under control.”

Now? Why not back then? Why wait for tens-of-thousands of deaths, millions of lives ruined, trillions of dollars of economic destruction, and the continued erosion of trust in our leaders, the media, and experts?

(Robert Moulton-Ely is a Republican Presidential candidate who appeared on the ballot in Missouri.)