The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


Wear a Mask, But Act as If It Doesn’t Work

Masks have been proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but instead of believing the evidence and following public health guidelines, many people have turned mask wearing into a political statement. They are refusing to wear masks for reasons that are laughable. Rejecting masks is selfish: it means they don’t care if other people get sick and die.

Update July 1, 2020: A paragraph about First Amendment Rights was updated to clarify a misunderstanding.

As I write this on June 29, 2020, we are in the midst of a global pandemic with a scary, rapidly spreading new virus that we don’t understand very well yet. Globally, 10,199,798 have become infected and 502,947 have died, for a 4.93% death rate. In the U.S., 125,928 people have died out of 2,564,163 infections, for a 4.91% death rate. The bad news is that the actual number of infected people is very likely much higher, inasmuch as testing has been hit and miss, so that means the death rate may not be so high. Nevertheless, the raw number of deaths is a staggering figure and everyone is, or ought to be, worried about getting COVID-19. What can you do to prevent catching the disease?

The rational response would be to listen to expert advice and follow the best public health precautions to minimize the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19, which includes frequent handwashing, remaining isolated as much as you can, social distancing when out in public, and wearing a mask around others. But this relatively simple advice has morphed from a public health recommendation to a political hot-button issue. Medical experts recommend masks, for example, but the President sets a bad example by refusing to wear one. Medical authorities recommend social distancing, but people are still crowding together in many settings, and many of them are not wearing masks. Where this has happened in places that began to reopen in May, most notably Florida, Arizona, and California, COVID-19 has come roaring back. Here are some reasons why wearing masks is important.

Surgeons Wear Masks

Surgeons wear surgical masks for many hours a day, day after day. They don’t have any trouble breathing. They are well trained. They know they have to keep their meticulously scrubbed and gloved hands sterile. They know they can’t touch their eyes or their faces and must not touch the mask. If it needs adjusting, they get a nurse or technician to do if for them. If something itches, they know they mustn’t scratch; they ask someone who is not scrubbed in to scratch it for them. They tolerate these minor annoyances not for their own personal benefit, but for the benefit of others. They know the precautions are necessary to minimize the risk of infection in the patients they are operating on.

I wonder how mask refusers would react if their surgeon wanted to perform major surgery on them without wearing a mask. Can you imagine the reaction if a surgeon said, “This is America and I am free to not wear a mask in surgery if I don’t feel like it!” Hopefully mask deniers would realize that would not be a good idea, but I’m not so sure they would.

Surgeons themselves were slow to adapt. In the not so “good old days,” they operated in street clothes with no gowns or gloves, and with unwashed hands. Sometimes the street clothes were visibly filthy or even blood-stained. When Ignaz Semmelweis (1818–1865) discovered that doctors had been causing puerperal fever, they refused to believe they were at fault. They had been going directly from autopsies to the wards, where they touched obstetrical patients, transmitting the deadly bacteria. No wonder they resisted Semmelweis: they didn’t believe in germs (the germ theory of disease wasn’t established until long after his death). Handwashing was shown to reduce mortality to less than 1%, but they refused to believe the evidence. A frustrated Semmelweis had a nervous breakdown and died in a mental institution.

Surgeons didn’t start consistently wearing gowns until 1901, caps until 1930, gloves until 1937, and masks until 1937. Today, no one in medicine is a mask denier. Not only because they have pledged an oath to “first, do no harm,” but also because they understand the principle of freedom: that the freedom for me to swing my fist ends at your nose. People should be free from other people’s germs where possible, and that is why masks and social distancing are advised.

Advice from the WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) website has instructive videos showing how to wear a mask. They advise cleaning hands both before putting the mask on and after taking it off, not touching the mask, making sure it fits properly without gaps, and removing it by the ear loops while leaning forward and avoiding any contact with the front of the mask. They cover proper storage and cleaning of re-usable masks, and they remind viewers that the mask alone will not guarantee protection, and people must still follow social distancing and handwashing recommendations. They explain that prolonged use of masks does not cause CO2 intoxication or oxygen deficiency. This has been tested; despite the fears of some in the public, blood oxygen and CO2 levels are not affected by wearing masks. Masks should not be worn while exercising, because sweating can make the mask wet, which can interfere with breathing and promote the growth of microorganisms.

The WHO also dispels a number of myths: the virus is not spread by house flies, mosquitos, or 5G networks. It can’t be cured or prevented by alcohol, bleach, adding pepper to your soup, sun exposure, hot weather, hot baths, cold weather, snow, hand dryers, garlic, rinsing the nose with saline, antibiotics, vaccines for flu or pneumonia, or any specific medications. UV lamps should not be used to disinfect the hands or skin.

Masks are Effective

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on June 24 that in the 16 states that recommend but do not require wearing masks in public, new cases of COVID-19 had risen by 84% in the previous two weeks, while in the 11 states that mandated wearing masks in public, new cases had fallen by 25%. That’s only one data point, but it is consistent with information from other sources. It is inescapably true that masks do work to reduce the rate of transmission. The evidence is clear, no matter how much some people want to deny it.

It is difficult to get reliable data because of the variety of masks in use and the variations in the way they are used. Perhaps the greatest problem is that so many people wear them wrong. We see people with the mask pulled down to expose the nose, essentially wearing a “chin mask.” Since COVID-19 is not transmitted by chins, how could they expect that to do any good? There are even people who must think the virus is transmitted via the Adam’s apple, since their masks only cover that area. We see people touching the outside of their masks, removing them to talk to others, touching their face and eyes, and entering close-packed crowds without wearing their masks. If people don’t use masks consistently and properly, the protection vanishes. Studies have counterintuitively found more virus on the outside of the mask, so it is particularly important to avoid touching that area.

A systematic review of 19 trials supported the benefits of community mask wearing by well individuals. Another systematic review and meta-analysis was published in The Lancet. It reviewed 172 studies and found good evidence to support social distancing, wearing masks in public, contact tracing, and eye protection. They commented, “Face mask use could result in a large reduction in risk of infection.”

Countries that required masks early on had fewer cases. A new study, not yet peer-reviewed, looked at coronavirus mortality and death rates in 194 countries and found that in countries where masks were mandated and culturally accepted, the per capita coronavirus mortality increased by 8% per week, compared to 54% per week in other countries where mask wearing was less prevalent.

In an encouraging report, two Great Clips hairstylists who tested positive for COVID-19 and wore masks did not pass it on to any of their 140 customers.

Wearing masks in public is twice as effective if masks are worn by everyone rather than only after symptoms appear. And “even homemade masks made from cotton t-shirts or dishcloths can prove 90% effective at preventing transmission.”

A model developed by the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts that 33,000 fewer people will die by October 1 if 95% of the U.S. population wears masks in public spaces.

Hierarchy of Masks

A comparison of masks found that the N95 equivalent mask blocked more than 95% of all particles, as expected. The surgical mask was around 40% effective, with the dental masks coming in at around 60%. Cotton masks were around 30% effective and cotton handkerchiefs ranged from 2% (one layer) to 13% (four layers).

Early mixed messages confused the public. Advice to only use N95 masks when treating sick patients was based on the fact that personal protective devices were in short supply and should be reserved for those who needed them most. That is no longer an issue. When we learned that asymptomatic people could carry the virus and infect others, everyone was encouraged to wear masks not for their own benefit, but to protect others. And they do also provide some protection for the wearer.

How is the Virus Transmitted?

The coronavirus can last on metal surfaces for 5 days, on wood for 4 days, on plastics for 2–3 days, on stainless steel for 2–3 days, on cardboard for 24 hours, on copper for 4 hours, on aluminum for 2–8 hours, on glass and ceramics for up to 5 days, and on paper from minutes to days. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will cause an infection, but it’s a good idea to regularly clean and disinfect common surfaces. Wearing a mask will not protect you from virus on surfaces, and it is not an excuse to slack off on hand washing.

As far as we know, no-one has gotten COVID-19 from food or drinking water. In restaurants and crowds, the risk is from other people, and it increases with the length of exposure. The risk is greatest for droplet transmission through the air, which can happen even when asymptomatic people don’t know they are infected.

Conspiracies and Fallacies

Some of the arguments people make to justify mask refusal are almost comical.

A sheriff in Washington State pushed back against the governor’s mandate to wear masks, saying, “Don’t be a sheep. Why are people going and trying to take away our First Amendment rights?” You might be a sheep if you only wore a mask because you wanted to mimic what everyone else was doing; you are not a sheep if you wear a mask because you know it reduces transmission and you want to protect yourself and others.

The argument about taking away our First Amendment rights is common, but it is based on faulty reasoning. Here’s what the First Amendment actually says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In the coronavirus pandemic, no laws have been passed and no Constitutional rights have been infringed.

The need for quarantine in a disease outbreak emergency outweighs everything else. Typhoid Mary was forcibly quarantined, violating her right to freedom in order to keep her from transmitting typhoid to the people she cooked for. Citizens have rights, but they also have responsibilities. The right to drive doesn’t mean the right to disregard rules, drive recklessly, and endanger the lives of others. In a pandemic, citizens have a responsibility to follow public health guidelines designed to help prevent the spread of disease and unnecessary deaths.

Some have argued that the rules interfere with their right to worship; but they don’t. They only make it safer for people to attend religious services, and of course you can worship at home, with others via Zoom or Skype, or in churches practicing proper social distancing. Others say the rules will interfere with their right to vote, but that’s not true either. Most states have vote-by-mail options, and there’s no reason that practice couldn’t be extended to all states as a rational response to the pandemic.

One woman said she wouldn’t wear a mask for the same reason she doesn’t wear underwear: “things need to breathe.” No, your lungs need to breathe; your skin doesn’t. If she really believed what she says, why would she wear clothes at all?

Palm Beach County voted unanimously to require the use of face masks in public spaces, sparking an eruption of angry residents. 52 people testified, almost all against masks; and the video went viral. One woman said, “You literally cannot mandate somebody to wear a mask knowing that mask is killing people.” Masks don’t kill people. One can only wonder where that misinformation came from. If masks kill people, wouldn’t surgeons be dying like flies?

Some protestors called it “the devil’s law” and said people who follow it are going to be arrested. “They want to throw God’s wonderful breathing system out the door.” But of course, masks don’t do anything to interfere with the breathing system. The mask wearer breathes normally; all the mask does is filter out some of the infective droplets to protect other people. “Every single one of you is going to be punished by God. You can not escape God.”

Another woman compared the law to Nazi Germany’s treatment of the Jews: “we were forced to wear a gold star, told to get on a box car to be taken to a safe place…This is not about health, this is about submission.” They shared conspiracy theories about a “communist dictatorship” that is “brainwashing people.” The distancing requirement is “military protocol.” “You’re trying to get people trained so when the cameras, the 5G comes out, we gotta get scanned, we gotta get temperatured. Are you insane? All of you should be in a psych ward.” And, predictably, since he supposedly engineered the pandemic so that he can implant a chip into people’s bodies when they are eventually vaccinated, “Why is Bill Gates not in jail?”

“Keep listening to the TV brainwashing you from birth.” There was talk of the Deep State and pedophiles. There was denial: “There’s not enough [COVID-19] to make it a pandemic.” They want to “put masks on your face to keep us from breathing oxygen, to get us to become sickly.” “I want to know who is getting paid off and where is the mandate coming from.” The comments were rife with vitriol but lacking in evidence. Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases in Florida increased to record levels.

History Repeats

Mask resistance is nothing new. In the 1918 flu epidemic, masks were mandated. Most people complied, but many complained that masks were uncomfortable, and some even poked holes in them so they could smoke! Mayors and other prominent people were photographed not wearing masks. Communities that implemented stronger health measures overall fared better than those that didn’t.

Mask refusers sound like petulant children: “I don’t wanna wear a mask. You can’t make me. You’re not the boss of me.” When I see someone not wearing a mask, it says to me “I don’t care about other people. If you get sick and die, that’s not my problem.”

The Bottom Line

Dr. Steven Novella says we should all wear masks in public; but we should learn to wear them properly, and we should act as if the mask does not work. I couldn’t agree more! END

About the Author

Dr. Harriet Hall, MD, the SkepDoc, is a retired family physician and Air Force Colonel living in Puyallup, WA. She writes about alternative medicine, pseudoscience, quackery, and critical thinking. She is a contributing editor to both Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer, an advisor to the Quackwatch website, and an editor of sciencebasedmedicine.org, where she writes an article every Tuesday. She is author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon. Her website is SkepDoc.info.

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Trouserchili
August 9, 2020 7:56 pm

Oh good lord. You would think these masks are painful the way people are whining and moaning and sniveling about wearing one. Does it hurt your little snowflake faces? Is your skin so thin the soft cloth chafes you? Do the strings hurt your little baby ears?

What is the big deal about wearing a mask when you go out? Is it that important that you get your spit all over everybody? Or is it that you just don’t give a rats a$$ about anyone but yourselves?

My God what a bunch of wussies.

Mike Fuerbass
August 9, 2020 5:54 pm

I totally agree with the author, and, by the way, please excuse me if my English should not be perfect, I’m from Germany.
Although we didn’t like it, we started wearing masks here in Germany early on, even when professionally manufactured masks were not available and we had to manufacture them by ourselves. And yes, it’s an annoyance, I’m suffering from a status asthmaticus myself, which doesn’t help me breathing through a tight tissues – I learned to change my way of breathing and if necessary to perform action more slowly. And right now in my county in Lower Saxony we are facing only 6 infected persons compared to a gross of more than 100,000 inhabitants. I’d call that a success, meaning that my risk of meeting an infected person is rather low, even lower, if everyone in public crowded areas is wearing any kind of mask.
That, for now, is my 10 cent on the topic and I ask everybody first to read, then to think and reconsider and only afterwards to take action.
Greetings from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Mike

Hegemon Locke
August 5, 2020 5:01 pm

Wasn’t the Lancet the same people who did the study on hydroxychloroquine and then had to admit it was BS? Now you want us to believe their mask effectiveness study I don’t think so. They have proven themselves to be invalid and make up what ever the leftest ideals tell them to. With all the lies in the media and fake studies I am not sure that Covid is even truly that dangerous if you are under 85 years old. P.S. Stop putting infected people in nursing homes or is there a Lancet Study saying it’s ok?

Linn Fuller
July 28, 2020 8:07 pm

What I find interesting is that the use of a mask has not been proved or disproved to be effective against the corona-virus (see World Health Organization information data). But because it makes sense and seems logical that a mask should have a positive impact, everyone is assuming that a mask makes a difference.

But what has been shown to have an absolute and unquestionable correlation to the spreading of any virus such as a cold or the flu is touching your eyes, nose and mouth with hands that have been exposed to a virus. As I walk around in public I find it amusing to see how many people are constantly touching, adjusting, and fidgeting with their mask due to its discomfort. They are unconsciously touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with hands that are possibly carrying the virus. 

It seems to me it would be much more effective to simply tell people to not touch their face, wash their hands often, and cover their mouth when they sneeze or cough.

Oh wait, I guess that’s what normal people have been doing for ages. Suddenly, it’s not enough.

So why the sudden urgency and pressure for everyone to wear a mask over their mouth and nose? Well it certainly does remind people of the life-threatening crisis we are all affected by. And wearing a mask does give everyone a (false) sense of safety and protection from the life-threatening environment, despite the constant face touching which actually spreads the virus.

Oh well, as they say, “Never let a good crisis go to waste…” Most people are more controllable when they are afraid. 

Since the corona-virus outbreak, people watching the network news and paying attention to media outlets has skyrocketed. And the amount of attention given to the medical industry will undoubtedly lead to increases in medical research and funding. Not to mention the profits from the coming vaccine.

No one in their right mind would ever let that go to waste.

David Barrett
July 25, 2020 12:17 pm

Regarding “Update July 1, 2020: A paragraph about First Amendment Rights was updated to clarify a misunderstanding.”

Unfortunately, Dr. Hall, you didn’t adequately “clarify [your] misunderstanding” because the paragraph in question still implies that the First Amendment argument is “based on faulty reasoning” because “no laws have been passed,” which you continue to imply is required by the first five words of the First Amendment — “Congress shall make no law” — which you continue to emphasize in bold.

Again, I would urge you to revise that paragraph to eliminate the incorrect legal implications, which continue to detract from your otherwise excellent article.

Sam
July 20, 2020 12:59 pm

Please refer to 1 scientific study on the transmission of virus as related to masks to validate your argumrnt. There have been 8 or 10 of these done over the last 10 years all of which disprove your article. These scientific study’s were done with both N95 as well as cloth masks. All studies show no relationship between transmission of virus, such as influenza, and the use of either N95 or cloth masks.

Steve Williams
July 10, 2020 10:00 am

I don’t have a problem wearing a face mask in the appropriate areas. Outside in the open air, in my car by myself, in a large open well-ventilated space, it doesn’t make sense. Wear one if it makes you feel better.

Ben
July 9, 2020 11:35 pm

have you even looked in to why surgeons wear masks, or have you just assumed it’s to prevent infection? it isn’t, it’s to protect against splashing of blood and other fluids. surgeons have known for year that masks do nothing against infection.
After 1,537 operations performed with face masks, 73 (4.7%) wound infections were recorded and, after 1,551 operations performed without face masks, 55 (3.5%) infections occurred.”
(doi: 10.1007/BF01658736)
No significance difference in the incidence of postoperative wound infection was observed between masks group and groups operated with no masks”
(PMID: 20524498)

you’ve assumed that because masks can block some larger droplets temporarily then that’s the same as preventing virus transmission. it isn’t, and as a skeptic you shouldn’t have assumed it in the first place.

Anon
July 9, 2020 3:07 am

You are comparing very contrasting data points… We should never be required to wear anything but what we want, the right for women to show their breasts in public has been a long term fight, the right for religious people to wear their garb, another long fight, the right for people to not be discriminated against due to their clothing or choice in style another long fight, to be told I MUST wear a mask is the same as being told I must wear specific clothing, or I must not do anything ever and just sit and die due to the scared nature of others.

If everyone is wearing a mask that wants to, then why not leave us that do not, alone? “Slows the spread” my ass, if that was the case why have we not been requiring the flu patients to wear a mask before their visit to their doctor appointment? You mention Surgeons and use that as a data point? Really well trained surgeons, therefore it can be very bad for average people to use this item, sure there are some that make it work, but there are many that I have watched lift their mask sneeze in the open and put the mask back on…

None of this was tested alone, and always data included points that also included washing hands or distance, as distancing works for sure, and should be the focus not a dumb ass unproven concept like a mask… How about washing hands more than a mask? I would say washing, being clean, and keeping a distance as well as I guess since we have to say it, not spitting or breathing on people… seriously… be cleaner and we would not have to wear a mask.
Having this virus prior, I did not need to stop working not did I need to do anything other than treat it as a nasty cold, my daughter brought it home and my wife as well, she is a medical professional who highly disagrees with mask wearing for normal every day people due to their inability and non-want to learn the correct methods, therefore actually increasing the chances of being sick, whereas no one wore a mask and none of our other kids got sick due to my germ hatred and manic cleaning all the time, it stayed to the three of us. I did not go anywhere unless necessary and absolutely kept a distance from everyone! Gee guess a mask would have… absolutely added no benefit as it was clear washing hands, distance, and sanitizing items touched and not spitting on people seemed to work just fine.

Pouring through data and the dumb graphs people show in Log scale when moved to linear there has been no slowing, just a slow gradual increase until everyone has had it at minimum, whether it comes back or not who knows… I am not going to live my life wearing a fucking mask, if others want to or someone wants me to in their home fine, but I have to get groceries and requirements to feed my kids to do something I have issues with is beyond a violation of my rights as a human… When and where will it stop? Require people to protect other people? Really when the poor girl in some alley has to scream fire to get anyone to help her when being raped, but sure lets pretend we care about others… Right… People think they are protecting themselves by forcing everyone to wear a mask not caring about others, they think the only way to get it to work is if everyone does it… that is selfish beyond belief.

Why BEFORE now has this not been something required?
Well because of isolation and distance, and proper use of PPE or PERSONAL protective equipment. It wont protect you from transmitting as even if you prevent your spit, (Did not know we had to tell people to not spit when they talk or breathe on others, or in general BE CLEAN) but because of all the dirty people, I am not forced to do something I do not feel is something I want?
So others get their way, but I can not just be left alone? I do not get close to people and as a germ-a-phob I have been floored at every ones freaked out response… You want more people on earth? We ever going to let nature do what it has been trying to do and remove some of the population since we are killing the world? Why not allow the survival of the fittest? We never did this for HIV or Flu or any other virus or disease, just this, and a few select others due to irrational fears and poor hygiene and health..

So many other things to worry about, but yea lets spend time demeaning people and belittling their personal thoughts and beliefs. Why not since it works that way then why can it not work the other way? My daughter is 11 and she is having her school years literally torn into tatters and pieces because why? People are fat, lazy, dirty and un healthy so a healthy good hearted little girl gets screwed over for every ones everything else? Why not just do something simple and work out a thought of if they do not want to contract the virus, and it scares them that much STAY HOME THEN, the rest of us would like to chance the shit and return to normal life, as if I have to fear and hide away and wear stupid gear my whole life to have a life, not really even a good one due to all of that, then what the hell is the point?
So instead you will force the rest of us to either comply or die, or not ever go anywhere at all? Wait… is that not the same damn thought I have in reverse? Except in my scenario the scared can obtain PPE to prevent the infection, whereas I can not go anywhere without being required to do something that within your scenario people are already doing?
So require me to do what you do or I go no where, whereas I required nothing except what you wanted to do to yourself in order to go where ever you would like, while respecting physical distance and staying clean and healthy… instead lets all be fat and lazy and just wrap in a bubble?
Good lord wake up and get a life, or don’t that is your choice… oh wait… no it’s not as you can choose my life so I guess I get to choose yours?
Keep fucking poking the hard workers of the world… we do not want this nor have time to stand and defend against brainless slobs spouting what sounds like educational level material but filled with horse crap. From a doctor to another doctor, quit being such a discriminating sociopath… Its ridiculous if you are that concerned order in and stay home, collect unemployment, the rest of us not worried would like to be done talking to people acting like babies and trying to force their fears on others to make themselves feel better by twisting a selfish thought into something that they want to sound as if it is there to help others not themselves… Seriously?? good way to land in the river by pushing and pushing and pushing some more until the nice and sane people snap and freak out becuase we should not have to damn explain ourselves, we are not hurting anyone in fact those that go out are potentially hurting themselves as they have the option to stay home… But wont use it so what blame it on other people?? Seriously… grow up.

James
July 18, 2020 5:07 am
Reply to  Anon

It is just a mask. Get over it!

You said,”Having this virus prior, I did not need to stop working not did I need to do anything other than treat it as a nasty cold,….”, then said,” I did not go anywhere unless necessary….” Hmmm, me thinks someone has been fibbing.

In Canada, where mask wearing is fairly common and getting more so, the rates of infection and death are quite a bit lower than in the States. Glad our border is mostly closed.

Man, some people are clueless!

DonHeppner
July 7, 2020 12:15 pm

From the comments it is pretty clear why America is such a mess.

Barry
July 7, 2020 11:33 pm
Reply to  DonHeppner

I disagree. I think for the most part the comments have been polite and well thought out. If American society was like this and discussions were allowed to take place then things would be much much better.

Max Villar
July 7, 2020 11:13 am
Barry
July 7, 2020 11:40 pm
Reply to  Max Villar

Good Article. I don’t agree with everything but the point is that there are excellent reasons to question the Mask mandate.

Money Quote:
“And although the Wuhan virus may be scary, what is also scary is how many people are sheep who do not question authority, much less stand up to it”

For a Skeptic site I am surprised at the message of “Obey” from this article without any real questions or skepticism…

James
July 18, 2020 5:09 am
Reply to  Barry

From what I have read thus far, sheep don’t get the virus. Just sayin’

dav
July 5, 2020 9:39 pm

What’s your doctorate in, sweetheart?

You talk about psychological motivations and epidemiology.

Pick one and stick to it.

And considering that actual doctors have changed their minds at least three times, tells me you quacks don’t have any better ideas than the rest of us.

James Burian
July 3, 2020 8:55 am

Wow! Just reading through the comments and am amazed at the differing opinions within the skeptical community on this subject. It doesn’t seem to even be a clear left/right divide within my circle of acquaintances. Sorry if I sound selfish and cruel to some and bending to New World Order sheep herding to others. I am going to live my life. I will social distance without a mask. I will greatly reduce my exposure in Walmart and other crowded venues, but will wear a mask when can’t distance. I will stay away from those who are at greatest risk of complications or death (my parents). My goal is not to prevent exposure to covid, but to reduce my exposure, so that hospital ERs do not get overwhelmed. I am not a scientist or a doctor. Just an individual with an opinion.

Richard Morris
July 3, 2020 7:44 am

A couple of significant points not covered here are (1) the statistics come from the government, making them suspect in the first place, and (2) they are easily misconstrued, either intentionally or unknowingly. After all, we do know figures don’t lie (unless the numbers are not accurate), but liars can figure. 

I think the good doctor makes some good points here, but her acceptance of whatever is fed to her by WHO or other government authorities shows to me she has not shaken off her career in the military.

To be clear, I am not saying she is lying. I am saying I think she makes mistakes in this article.

BillG
July 2, 2020 3:51 am

Too many unknowns concerning this virus and too many to claim certainly. Lest we forget what science is? It changes with best available information in which mask wearing is advised.
More important is to not only keep some social distance but to be extremely vigilant about not touching your face when out in public and wash your hands when returning home. Isn’t that how we get sick from most common colds and flu?
The germaphobes must feel some vindication as their precautions are not delusional.

Bob
July 1, 2020 4:00 pm

The fact that society is arguing at all anymore about anything covid related at this point is showing how much we have devolved as a species.

Anyone that is alive today in 2020, with all of the information available at their fingertips to look through and still buys into ANY of the official narratives of this pandemic (including the moronic mask wearing narrative that opinions keep going back and forth on by the “experts”) is completely hopeless.

It’s almost to the point to where the actors on tv (who many refer to as “experts”) will be telling the masses to commit suicide in order to escape the “virus” and a lot of people would probably do it, sadly.

All of the recommendations the “experts” are giving now are all slow suicide recommendations and the masses keep following them all and voluntarily comply. Hope this ends soon before its to late for many.

Tom
July 1, 2020 12:24 pm

Of those in who caught Covid in NYC, 66% were in lockdown and 18% were in nursing homes. That’s 84%. Fine, don’t count the 18% that Cuomo poisoned by sending the sick into their facility. That’s still two thirds in lockdown were the ones who caught it.

I have no doubt that masks help. I also know that those with asthma, respiratory issues, allergies and especially the elderly with those issues will suffer a higher rate of stroke in the summer wearing a mask. Masks help, sure. To the degree that duck and cover worked against nuclear weapons. It’s value is probably far greater as a reminder to wash, and maintain a distance than mask itself.

Dale Schroader
July 1, 2020 11:18 pm
Reply to  Tom

This is a Skeptic site. Critical thinking is highly recommended. Your claim of the people infected in lockdown is correct, but why did your logic train stop there? I am quite confident that the vast majority of those residents do NOT have a biological laboratory capable of designing and manufacturing COVID-19 at their homes. The infections obviously came from somewhere outside and the fact people still got infected actually reinforces the need for the lockdown, as without it, those numbers would have been MUCH worse. This is indeed evident by all the states that opened early with very loose restrictions and their corresponding explosion of COVID-19 spread.

Also, your assessment of the value of the masks ignores the actual science that supports their use.

https://arxiv.org/pdf/2004.13553.pdf

This as a good scientific breakdown by a British study, but for the casual reader, the main point to be taken is found here as part of their conclusion (end of May would have been 6 weeks from the date of the study):
“Social distancing and masking at both 50% and 80-90% of the population but no lockdown beyond the end of May result in substantial reduction of infection, with 80-90% masking eventually eliminating the disease.

Ben
July 9, 2020 11:40 pm
Reply to  Dale Schroader

80-90% masking eliminating the disease? that is an educated guess based on a simulation (built on assumptions as all simulations are), not what actually does happen or has happened. so far the only countries and states that have completely eliminated the disease haven’t had mask policies, and here in japan where we’ve been masked from the beginning we’re just starting a 2nd wave of infections.

James
July 18, 2020 5:17 am
Reply to  Ben

Japan’s rate of infection and death is almost nil compared to the USA. Their population is more concentrated into cities, yet infection rate is lower. Hmm, maybe the masks help, don’t you think?

Ben
July 9, 2020 11:36 pm
Reply to  Tom

why do you have no doubt?

pathcoin1
July 1, 2020 3:43 am

There is a confusion about masks. There are two types: A simple cloth mask and a more complicated filter mask. The function overlaps but the purposes are different.

The simple cloth mask (or similar device) blocks respiratory droplets. It does not block the virus per se, but the virus rides the respiratory droplets like a rider on a horse. Block the droplets or at least impair their spread and impair the spread of the virus. The cloth mask protects YOU from ME. These masks are quite effective as proven by the East Asian Experience (Hong Kong and Taiwan).

The filter type mask (known as N95, N100, and similar devices) is llke the cloth mask, the filter mask blocks the spread of the respiratory droplet. But it has an enhanced function: it also blocks the spread of the virus. It is slightly more complicated and must be fitted to the user. It is used in situations where I must be protected from YOU. This is why it is used by healthcare workers. They are exposed to high viral loads continually.

it is clear that when the WHO came up the post hoc explanation of a shortage of masks, it was practicing a “CYOA” moment.

Ben
July 9, 2020 11:57 pm
Reply to  pathcoin1

unfortunately the effect is temporary, a few minutes at mest, as the droplets quickly drop out in the mask fibers and the virus is then no longer contained and flies around just as if you had no mask. at the same time, masks redirect a portion of your breath upwards, meaning more particles go higher and can spread further.
the N95 masks also do not block this virus or any viruses, they’re just too small. viruses are 0.1um in size while the smallest pores of the very best masks are 0.3um. RCT’s undertaken to measure mask effectiveness against influenza (a virus extremely similar to covid) show no effect whatsoever, in both healthcare and household situations, with both surgical masks and N95%. this is unsurprising when the stated 95% efficiency of N95% masks is only for particles >0.3um. some claim electrostatic attraction can catch particles smaller than 0.3um, but the force of a breath is much larger and so the 0.1um viruses are carried right through.

Spo
July 26, 2020 8:12 pm
Reply to  Ben

Good discussion. From what I’ve read masks work by forcing droplets etc. to change direction as they pass through. In that process some will strike the material. Depending on many factors more or less % will strike and then adhere, therefore becoming trapped. I’m more familiar with HEPA filters from my job; they function the same way. No one should think we are trapping a virus because it can’t squeeze through a hole in a material. Neither should anyone doubt that masks and face coverings can’t have an effect on the amount of stuff we breathe in or out.

Barry
July 1, 2020 3:21 am

For a so-called prominent skeptic this article is downright embarrassing.

Appeals to emotion, data points based on correlations, and outright white-washing. Not to mention the condescending talking-down attitude of the article itself.

This is not science this is borderline religion.

I wear a mask in public. My entire family does as well but to imply that there are no justified reasons to be against them is plain wrong. Even ignorant.

I love an open honest discussion. The article above was not that.

Let’s go step-by-step through some of your points:

1. You immediately try and scare the reader by dropping a 4.93% death rate. That is absolutely not the death rate. Not even close. And we all know it. You try and tiptoe around that misleading statistic by then saying:
“The bad news is that the actual number of infected people is very likely much higher, inasmuch as testing has been hit and miss, so that means the death rate may not be so high”.
“bad news”…”may not be so high.”

This is so misleading and such an appeal to emotion that anything that comes after it is suspect.
We absolutely know the death rate is lower then 4.93% so “death rate may not be so high” is just misleading. The death rate is magnitudes lower because we absolutely do know that the number of infected is much higher then those tested.
You then call this bad news. A higerh number of infected beyond what we know is actually GOOD news. It means that the vast vast majority are either asymptomatic or not severe.

You double-down with: “Nevertheless, the raw number of deaths is a staggering figure and everyone is, or ought to be, worried about getting COVID-19”
Again, an appeal to emotion over facts. Raw deaths is not “staggering” and no, not everyone needs to be worried. Shame on you.

2. “The rational response would be to listen to expert advice…”
Really? Which experts? The experts who have been giving us non-stop conflicting, often wrong, advice? The experts who originally claimed it was not transferable human to human (See W.H.O. statement in January)? The experts(CDC, Fauci) who told us masks don’t help and we should not run out and buy them – only to backtrack later and admit they were pretty much lying to us to prevent a rush on supplies? The experts who told us based on their models and simulations that millions would be dead by now in the USA alone? How about the experts at JAMA – the worlds most prestigious medical journal – retracting 2 articles about related to Covid treatment due to falsified data?

And of course the experts telling us that we are going to kill our grandmothers if we go out – unless we are protesting a political cause in which case it is fine.

I could go on of course but the point is made….

So yeah, you have got to be kidding about experts.Shouldn’t a so-called Skeptic have the exact opposite reaction? Blindly following “experts” is just appaling. Especially given the novel situation about which so little is known. The only thing the so-called experts have shown us is that they are just as clueless as we all are.

3. You then go on a long-winded side note about surgeons wearing masks. This is a complete straw-man. This is basic logical fallacy 101. The issue here is not about surgeons wearing masks. No one is disagreeing with this. There is a cavernous difference between a trained surgeon in a controlled sterile environment wearing a certified mask while performing surgery and the general public wearing cheap or even homemade masks out in a public street.
C’mon, you are better than this.

4. “Advice from the W.H.O.” I already mentioned some of the issues with the WHO above but suffice it to say their advice has been conflicting, often wrong, and often bordering on political.

5. “Masks are Effective”. Ah, the heart of matter. Much of your “evidence” here is either anecdotal or largely correlational. Not only that but there are many places and countries that did not institute mask wearing and their numbers are similar to those who are mandating masks. So I’ll see your correlational points and match them with mine. 
You did mention a couple of studies showing the effectiveness of masks. Of course, you conveniently left out, the other studies that, indeed, show the opposite. We are still way short of knowing if masks indeed help or not. And there is some evidence that masks are actually harmful.  It gives people a false sense of security thus skipping other diligence, people touch their masks and then their faces, re-use masks, don’t put them on correctly, take them off incorrectly, etc….all having potentially harmful effects. 
This article seems a particularly unbiased and comprehensive summary of the studies to date on masks:
https://arstechnica.com/science/2020/04/should-you-wear-a-face-mask-heres-all-the-data-we-have

** Spoiler-alert: There are just as many studies show no benefit or even harmful benefit as there are showing positive benefits.

All that said, I personally wear masks whenever I go out ion public. It just seems to make logical sense they will help. Of course, that’s what was thought about blood letting and Astrology.
That said, let’s have a reasonable discussion with all the facts AND the unknowns. While it may not matter much to you, mandating peoples behavior should never be taken lightly. Laws about what we should do must only be instituted in the most dire circumstances under conditions as factually as possible. While forcing people to wear masks may not be authoritarian, push back is often beneficial so that governments understand the limits of their power.

Leo Foss
July 1, 2020 11:31 am
Reply to  Barry

Barry, of all the responses here I think yours is by far the best. I would only add one item about non-surgical masks.:
Surgeons wear N95 masks primarily to protect the person they are working on from infection from the bacteria and viruses that normally populate the surgeon, and perhaps from other viruses that the surgeon picked up from patients he/she recently worked on. When the surgeon washes he/her hands, it is not to protect him/herself because the washing takes place before the operation starts. The washing is to protect the patient from any germs that the surgeon might have on his/her hands. Wearing a mask is part of the totality of measures the surgeon employs to protect the patient from infection.
And surgeons do not wear a face mask solely to protect them from infection; they also wear plastic eye protection. This is because the eyes provide another vector for the virus to enter the body..
If you are in close proximity to a symptomatic person who is coughing vigorously, wearing a non-surgical mask will protect you only in a very minor way. The water dropletss will adhere to the outside of the mask, and when the water evaporates the viral particle can be inhaled through the pores of the non-surgical mask and voila: you are infected.
Surgeons obviously do not wear non-surgical masks as they do not protect them significantly.
If I do not harbor the COVID-19 virus, wearing the mask is not going to protect me very well from your COVID-19 virus. I wear the mask to protect you from me, but if I am certain I don’t have the virus then where is the rationale to wear a mask?
Dr. Hall’s article appears in the Skeptic magazine, and that magazine should be ashamed of publishing such a non-scientific article from a non-scientist. Dr. Hall is a retired general practitioner, not an expert on transmission of viral diseases. Where is the skepticism?

Dale Schroader
July 1, 2020 10:53 pm
Reply to  Leo Foss

I disagree with your assessment of Barry’s misinformed rant. The article he cites is dated April 3rd, and is full of speculative and incorrect statements. You correctly pointed out that you, and surgeons wear masks to protect others from infections, but failed to acknowledge the Skeptic’s article’s point – “When we learned that asymptomatic people could carry the virus and infect others, everyone was encouraged to wear masks not for their own benefit, but to protect others.” I point this out, because this is the killer flaw (pun INTENDED) in Barry’s “logic”. He does not acknowledge this FACT, and the study he cited only talks about self-protection, as I am sure are all the “other studies” he seems to have at the ready. And YOUR major flop is when you wrote, ” if I am certain I don’t have the virus then where is the rationale to wear a mask?”. I say that because there is NO WAY you can be certain that you do not have the virus. Even after getting an accurate negative test for it, there is NOTHING that ascertains you did not become infected immediately, or anytime thereafter. Please try to perform better analysis of logical pitfalls in future.

Last edited 2 months ago by Dale Schroader
Dale Schroader
July 1, 2020 11:02 pm
Reply to  Barry

My reply to Leo Foss took down your biggest misinformation regarding masks – you focus on the self-preventative aspects, rather than the true reason for the masks – protection of others. This invalidates the bulk of your rant. You did throw out this chestnut, “Not only that but there are many places and countries that did not institute mask wearing and their numbers are similar to those who are mandating masks”, but provided no references. Please provide them, as I can easily show how such a claim is just more misinformation as it pertains to the effectiveness of wearing masks to prevent infecting others.

Ben
July 10, 2020 12:02 am
Reply to  Dale Schroader

masks don’t protect others. you provide no references for this claim though you do ask for references for a claim that is easily verified by google. new zealand eliminated the virus with no mask policy, some australian states have also done so with no mask policy, and both japan and korea have been having virus resurgences despite having near 100% mask adoption. also i’ll point out that korea and japan have been avid mask-wearers for many years yet have seen no reduction in disease thanks to it. quite the opposite in fact. google image search “number of doctor consultations per person per year”.

Ben
July 9, 2020 11:59 pm
Reply to  Barry

well done. an accurate, cogent, and well-written analysis. both thanks and kudos to you.

Qanonymous
July 15, 2020 4:21 pm
Reply to  Barry

Pretty sure you can contract this virus thru your eyes …so how does a mask covering your nose and mouth help that. I think I would rather get the virus than give up all my rights as an American citizen.

James
July 18, 2020 5:29 am
Reply to  Qanonymous

Masks help protect others from you, not you from others. If we all wear masks it goes to reason that transmission rates will drop. Maybe when wrapping yourself in the flag you should ensure it covers you face too. Problem solved.

Paul
June 30, 2020 8:25 pm

I agree with the article and the science shows that mask wearing saves lives. For those that are saying “correlation not causation”, so what? If masks only have a maybe potential to save lives, why not do it? They’re not that hard to wear and breathe. Why would anyone try to make mask-wearing a political or freedom issue? I assume these are also the people who are offended if we tell children not to smoke or drink.
Also, a minor nitpick. You said “No, your lungs need to breathe; your skin doesn’t.” Actually, your skin does breathe. If you coat all of your skin with impermeable paint except your nose and mouth, you will die (not quickly, but over several hours). But that has no bearing on putting a permeable mask on your face–which has never harmed thousands of people, including cowboys wearing bandanas against dust. (Hey! Proud Americans wearing masks! Why not get some cowboy ads as PSAs? And PSA could stand for Proud Smart Americans.)

Ben
July 10, 2020 12:05 am
Reply to  Paul

they don’t. they do the opposite. masks have no effect and wearing masks makes people do the things that do have an effect – hand washing, staying home, disinfecting, etc – less often. both japan and korea have been wearing masks for years and years but have seen the opposite of benefits. google image search “number of doctor consultations per person per year”.

Alejandro Ray
June 30, 2020 6:28 pm

Life is all about disease and death. Humanity likes to blind itself to that fact. We can all die at any minute. Now, all of a sudden, everyone is worried about it. When, very few had the backbone to consider it before all this began. Coronavirus is nature retaliating against the virus of the human race, because all humanity has ever done is screw it up. I’ve been “social distancing” my whole life, and being ridiculed for this the entire time. Now, again all of a sudden, it’s okay to keep to oneself. And, NO ONE is even trying to understand those of us out here who’ve never needed cliques or groups or anything of that nature. So thank you for reminding me how easy it is to forget their are millions of different points of view. Just because the majority follows ONE doesn’t necessarily mean it’s correct.

Doug
June 30, 2020 3:38 pm

Michael Shermer, please listen to Michael Osterholm on this subject.
https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/covid-19/podcasts-webinars/special-ep-masks

Stephen
June 30, 2020 1:56 pm

Not wearing masks means people don’t care about others getting sick and dying?

A sick and disgusting summation just as mellow dramatic as those who compare this to Nazi Germany. Hopefully society will never fall clutches to such a depraved mentality that’ll lead nowhere but to struggle sessions and public mob bullying. You’re not that many bad articles away from saying they’re murderers.

If someone doesn’t have electrical socket covers does that mean they want their kids to die?

At least the Nazi comparisons have weight as you’ve cited states where politicians enforce coercive policies and calls by Biden and Pelosi to make mask wearing a federal law.

Leave masks to the geezers.

Paul
June 30, 2020 8:01 pm
Reply to  Stephen

Yes, if you’re breathing your germs on me, they infect me and I die, you are a murderer. How did you think it worked? People with AIDS who knew it and has unprotected sex were murderers. And read the Constitution (I have, you should). Tell me where the “freedom not to wear a mask” amendment is. Or is this one of those made up amendments that drunk people sometimes tell me about?

John, PhD in public health
July 1, 2020 8:26 am
Reply to  Paul

“Tell me where the “freedom not to wear a mask” amendment is.”

It’s in the same section where the Constitution grants the government the power to require a person to wear one.


Dale Schroader
July 1, 2020 10:19 pm

You are confusing “freedom” with “reckless endangerment”, which IS a crime, but as you seem to not care about basic humanitarian concepts, I doubt it will register, anyway. As someone else once said (cannot remember who, right now), “Your freedom to swing your fists ends at the tip of my nose.”

Clint R
July 5, 2020 10:17 pm
Reply to  Paul

14th amendment. Read it carefully. Were you compelled to retire? Presuming you’re of the age to retire. Also, look up liberty in the dictionary while you’re at it. And, if I have a legitimate claim that I can’t wear a mask HIPPA and the 4th amendment have my back on that.

Janice Muir
June 30, 2020 1:34 pm

Thank you, Dr. Hall. I will share the link to this article with my Workplace Health & Safety Committee.

Rosemary
June 30, 2020 1:26 pm

I believe that New Zealand, Australia and all the Scandinavian countries besides Finland did not require or recommend that the general public wear masks. I know that at least two advised against it. All did very well compared to the US.

https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2020/04/coronavirus-the-ministry-of-health-s-current-verdict-on-face-masks-during-covid-19-pandemic.html

https://www.thelocal.dk/20200511/why-is-denmark-not-recommending-face-masks-to-the-public

Dale Schroader
July 2, 2020 9:47 am
Reply to  Rosemary

A little research indicates that is not always true, as well as why a small few had less problems.

https://www.foxnews.com/world/new-zealand-health-minister-resigns-after-coronavirus-lockdown-missteps

Sweden relied on its citizenry’s civic compliance to recommendations, rather than enforcements, for the most part, yet –
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-25/swedish-scientist-who-doubted-face-masks-reconsiders-their-use?srnd=storythread

As for Denmark, it was the second country in Europe to enter lockdown and did so before it even reported its first death. It’s small population and strict social distancing and hygiene measures, combined with a tiny initial caseload, were also instrumental in preventing the disease from gaining a significant foothold. These are combined factors that most countries do not have in their favor. When there is so little of the disease available to spread, the effectiveness of face masks is not necessary to aid in its containment (even though an early use of them would still have likely resulted in significantly less cases, but that is hindsight).

Last edited 2 months ago by Dale Schroader

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