High quality mega-study: masks generally of no value against covid

High quality mega-study: masks generally of no value against covid. By Adam Creighton.

No nation forced masks on people with as much zeal as the US, whose libertarian reputation belied pockets of maniacal health authoritarianism unknown in Australia or even Europe.

The US, uniquely among advanced nations, forced masks on children aged two and up, something not even Victoria countenanced at the height of the great madness.

Today, still, after the vast bulk of Americans has sheepishly consigned masks to the bin, school students in Michigan and Massachusetts are required to mask up in class, despite mounting evidence that masks stunt childhood development.

The recent mega-study:

In that context, a new, rigorous study that found masks did nothing to slow Covid-19 might have made the news. But no; a 305-page Cochrane analysis published globally on January 30 that assessed 78 high-quality scientific studies that included more than 610,000 participants has yet to rate a single mention in The Washington Post, The New York Times or on CNN, for instance.

Even passionate maskers, such as Baltimore epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo, conceded Cochrane reviews were the “gold standard” of evidence-based medicine and its latest mask study “a very serious undertaking”.

Cochrane found that surgical masks, the kind doctors wear in operating theatres to avoid accidentally sneezing into an open wound, did nothing to stop Covid-19.

More embarrassing for Team Mask, those even more uncomfortable N95 masks made little to no difference either. Only hand washing seemed to work to prevent the spread of corona and influenza-like viruses.

So there is no excuse for making masks mandatory:

“There is just no evidence masks make any difference. Full stop,” University of Oxford associate tutor Tom Jefferson, one of the study’s 12 authors, told Australian journalist Maryanne Demasi last week.

“In the absence of evidence, you shouldn’t be forcing anybody to do so,” he said, describing advocates of forced masking as “activists, not scientists”. …

Health bureaucrats charged in without evidence but with prejudice, eager to be seen to be doing something:

No government health agency in the US or elsewhere bothered to conduct any randomised control trial of what was a highly divisive intervention that pre-2020 science had counselled against.

[CDC director Rochelle] Walensky said she didn’t rate the latest Cochrane study because it analysed only the highest quality mask studies.

“I’m not sure anybody would have proposed a clinical trial because so many studies demonstrated time and time again … masks were working,” she said in reply, referring to studies that would have been deemed junk before 2020.

Indeed, none of the findings in the latest Cochrane review should have been a surprise. The overwhelming consensus among scientists pre-Covid-19 was that forcing healthy people to wear masks, let alone outside, was pointless and potentially harmful. Minuscule viruses would slip through the tiny holes in the masks or simply go around them. …

What did masking up achieve, apart from a huge amount of waste (for example, 3M made 4.5 billion N95 masks in 2020-21)?

Masks might have failed totally at stopping Covid-19 surges in every nation that implemented them, but they were highly successful on one metric: stoking fear, providing an in-your-face, everyday reminder of the pandemic that might increase compliance with other measures.

Wearing a mask sent a powerful message throughout the pandemic: I follow the science.

Increasingly, it’s sending a different one: I’m a credulous goose.

Or perhaps even, following new research in Frontiers in Psychology published last month: I’m not very attractive. “Our results consistently demonstrated that self-perceived unattractive individuals were more willing to wear a mask, as they believed it would benefit their attractiveness,” the authors concluded.

That said, if N95 or better masks are fitted and worn correctly then they do reduce transmission of covid somewhat. But most of the public can’t/won’t/didn’t do that.

Personally I find a properly fitted mask makes it hard to breathe and fogs up any glasses, so I find them unpleasant and onerous. I usually ended up cheating by allowing some air in around the side of the mask somewhere, or I didn’t get enough air. On the other hand, some people find wearing a mask makes little difference to them.

UPDATE: A reader adds:

A hospital in England changed its NHS directed advice for staff after a classic study it did recently, when it found that N95 type masks were essentially useless in preventing infection and higher rated, N99 (FFP3) helped a great deal (essentially no infections under controlled conditions).

Almost all of us are wearing non-medical grade, N95 masks in Australia. Superior, N99 masks normally have vents, but all vented masks are banned in Canberra etc. Ditto respirators.

“Masks can catch droplets and sputum from a cough but what is important is that SARS CoV-2 is predominantly distributed by tiny aerosols. A Covid viral particle is around 100 nanometres, material gaps in blue surgical masks are up to 1,000 times that size, cloth mask gaps can be 500,000 times the size”

“A study in Denmark involving 6,000 participants found that “there was no statistically significant difference between those who wore masks and those who did not when it came to being infected by Covid-19.”

The CDC in America reviewed the research and their own studies and found that masks being worn were about 1% better than nothing.

Another expert painted a picture which is easier to understand. Imagine scaffolding on a building. Now throw some marbles at it and see how many are stopped by the scaffolding. That’s how useful N95 masks we wear are, so why aren’t we doing something better?

Part of the answer is we have backed ourselves into a dogma corner and fundamentally changing the advice on them would cause huge problems in terms of keeping people onside and following authoritative advice on the matter.