City Journal: Do Masks Work? A Review of the Evidence

[CITY JOURNAL] “Seriously people—STOP BUYING MASKS!” So tweeted then–surgeon general Jerome Adams on February 29, 2020, adding, “They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus.” Two days later, Adams said, “Folks who don’t know how to wear them properly tend to touch their faces a lot and actually can increase the spread of coronavirus.” Less than a week earlier, on February 25, public-health authorities in the United Kingdom had published guidance that masks were unnecessary even for those providing community or residential care: “During normal day-to-day activities facemasks do not provide protection from respiratory viruses, such as COVID-19 and do not need to be worn by staff.” About a month later, on March 30, World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies Program executive director Mike Ryan said that “there is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any particular benefit.” He added, “In fact there’s some evidence to suggest the opposite” because of the possibility of not “wearing a mask properly or fitting it properly” and of “taking it off and all the other risks that are otherwise associated with that.”

Surgical masks were designed to keep medical personnel from inadvertently infecting patients’ wounds, not to prevent the spread of viruses. Public-health officials’ advice in the early days of Covid-19 was consistent with that understanding. Then, on April 3, 2020, Adams announced that the CDC was changing its guidance and that the general public should hereafter wear masks whenever sufficient social distancing could not be maintained.

Fast-forward 15 months. Rand Paul has been suspended from YouTube for a week for saying, “Most of the masks you get over the counter don’t work.” Many cities across the country, following new CDC guidance handed down amid a spike in cases nationally caused by the Delta variant, are once again mandating indoor mask-wearing for everyone, regardless of inoculation status. The CDC further recommends that all schoolchildren and teachers, even those who have had Covid-19 or have been vaccinated, should wear masks.

The CDC asserts this even though its own statistics show that Covid-19 is not much of a threat to schoolchildren. Its numbers show that more people under the age of 18 died of influenza during the 2018–19 flu season—a season of “moderate severity” that lasted eight months—than have died of Covid-19 across more than 18 months. What’s more, the CDC says that out of every 1,738 Covid-19-related deaths in the U.S. in 2020 and 2021, just one has involved someone under 18 years of age; and out of every 150 deaths of someone under 18 years of age, just one has been Covid-related. Yet the CDC declares that schoolchildren, who learn in part from communication conveyed through facial expressions, should nevertheless hide their faces—and so should their teachers.

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How did mask guidance change so profoundly? Did the medical research on the effectiveness of masks change—and in a remarkably short period of time—or just the guidance on wearing them? [CONTINUE READING]

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