The mask is a religious symbol as much as a health precaution. Like saffron robes or a suffocating burka, it marks a true believer — or at least those willing to submit — and protects the wearer from divine wrath. To defy heaven’s mandate is to imperil yourself, your family, your community, and your social credit score. If you’re dumb enough to die with a naked face, the media will mock you as a science-denier for all eternity.
When you consider the terrifying warnings pumped into our heads since springtime, often from trusted figures, can anyone be blamed for clinging to their masks and the new civil religion? Still, it’s ironic that the current wave of mask enthusiasm came the same week that a major scientific study called the policy’s effectiveness into question. Last Wednesday, the Annals of Internal Medicine published the long-awaited results of the first large-scale randomized clinical trial to determine whether these goofy muzzles actually work.
The landmark experiment, led by Henning and Johan Skov Bundgaard, was conducted on a sizeable population of Danes. A group of 3,030 mask-wearers was compared to a naked-face control group of 2,994, and of the total, 4,862 made it to the finish line.
After a month of sharing air with germy strangers, both groups were given coronavirus blood antigen tests. Additionally, anyone who fell ill during the trial was given a PCR test via nasal swab. The results will disappoint those who say those who don’t wear masks are would-be murderers: “Infection with SARS-CoV-2 occurred in 42 participants recommended masks (1.8 %) and 53 control participants (2.1%).”
Despite all we’ve been led to believe, the masks did next to nothing to protect the wearers. Other evidence indicates that even when nearly everybody wears a mask, COVID infection rates rise and fall in similar patterns. While Facebook and other organizations insist the mask science is settled in its favor, the truth is that at the very least the scientific record is mixed. While neurotic co-workers and draconian baristas command you to obey the state and trust the science, real scientific evidence suggests shaking magic bone-rattles at the sky would provide the same protection.
‘The Science’ Doesn’t Exist. Real Science Changes
The credulous “trust the science” crowd is annoying for many reasons, but nothing’s worse than their blind faith in authority. When did science nuts decide to stop being skeptical? Don’t these armchair experts remember when “the science” assured us Prozac was a miracle drug and Oxycontin was barely addictive?
At its best, the scientific method provides approximate models of reality. In physics, these models are accurate enough to shoot a missile between an insurgent’s eyes, even if physicists remain baffled by the quantum behavior underpinning its trajectory. As we progress up the great chain of being, however, from basic mechanics to complex biological processes — such as epidemiological patterns and innate immune responses — you can’t “trust the science” much farther than you can throw it.
When dealing with complex phenomena, every rule has too many exceptions for scientists to get cocky. Even the best practices based on science have unexpected trade-offs and pitfalls. Remember when doctors realized that overuse of sanitizers and antibiotics was suppressing our immune systems and creating unstoppable super-bugs? Or when vaccine-derived polio ravaged the Indian population, possibly crippling some half a million children?
Rest assured, it wasn’t Purell or the Gates Foundation that called foul on these unforeseen consequences. That duty falls on the skeptic.
The best arguments in favor of universal masking cite the dramatic plunge in case numbers when New York City and Italy mandated masks, but as anyone who trusts the science knows, correlation does not imply causation. Huge surges are happening in areas that have been masked up for months, such as Michigan, California, and Massachusetts. It’s almost as if outbreaks are inevitable in populations with little to no immunity.
The Western world’s sole COVID-19 control group, Sweden, continues to confound the now-conventional wisdom around masking. The Swedes barely wore them, yet for reasons you can’t explain to herd immunity-deniers, the country’s second wave appears to be waning, with very few deaths.
Swatting Mosquitoes with a Tennis Racket
Every scientific conclusion is provisional and open to question. Even the large-scale Danish mask study has some potential problems.
First off, the experiment incorporates self-reporting, which is hardly an exact science. The test group was simply handed a stack of 50 surgical masks and a recommendation to wear them for a month. Of these masked participants, 46 percent reported perfect compliance, and 47 percent reported decent compliance. (The remaining 7 percent were excluded for taking a “presidential” approach.) Did all these subjects tell the truth? Does anyone ever tell the truth? Someone should do a study on that.
Still, if these Danes are to be trusted, it’s worth noting that when the researchers limited the variable to only those who claimed to mask up “exactly as instructed,” their infection rate (2 percent) was nearly equal to that of the control group (2.1 percent). It’s like a cabal of mad scientists convinced 3,000 lab rats to wear surgical masks around town for nothing but a laugh. At least it was only for one month.
Second, there’s the question of accurate testing. The participants’ infection rates were determined by a combination of blood antigen tests and PCR analysis of nasal swabs. How many of those tests yielded false positives or false negatives? After Elon Musk received two positive and two negative results on the same day, we should probably be questioning COVID-19 testing more loudly — as well as the resulting statistical models — but don’t say that to anyone who trusts the science.
Third, the Danish study only tells us how useful masks are for self-protection. Its results say nothing about how well they protect others from our deadly breath, or our grubby fingers, for that matter. Even worse, no mask study will show how many aerosol-borne germs we’re gathering on our eyelashes; recall that, for the coronavirus, our eyeballs are basically public pools with no lifeguard on duty.
For what it’s worth, though, a new study published in Nature found “no positive tests amongst 1,174 close contacts of asymptomatic cases,” which might mean healthy people aren’t covertly spewing the virus all over the place. That would also indicate that the “my mask protects you, your mask protects me” slogan is wrong.
In any case, studies that use surgical masks — especially those conducted in hospital environments — don’t tell us if the cloth mouth-diapers everyone wears actually function more like dream-catchers for microbes than impenetrable fences. In the absence of expert consensus, the layman is tempted to draw some nasty conclusions from the scent his mask carries out of a public men’s room.
Despite these problems and others left unmentioned, the Danish clinical trial is some of the best scientific evidence we have, and it suggests that believing “masks work” requires a leap of faith. No wonder public health organizations used to discourage mask use until the issue became a political football.
No wonder, however, that our governors, health administrators, and media pundits repeat this disputed claim in unison, without strong evidence. Dubious mantras are how cult leaders keep their followers compliant.
What’s So Hard About Wearing Masks?
Part of this social tension comes down to our different dispositions, regardless of the evidence. If you’ve ever forced a muzzle onto your dog’s snout, you know there are three kinds of pups born into this world: those who prance around proudly because they’re wearing something special; those who couldn’t care less; and those who will cringe and struggle, and then, having been muzzled against their will, will sulk in shame.
Humans are much the same. Some true believers are so intent on virtue-signaling, you’ll see them sport a mask while they walk alone, out in the sunshine, like they have a faded Obama-Biden yard sign strapped to their face. They’ll still be wearing them in 2024, like prancing pups.
Most of the folks you see masked at the grocery store, just trudging along as they would any other day, fall into the second category. They’d wear a red Bozo nose and a sequined leotard if it meant they wouldn’t get hassled.
Those of us in the naked-face community fall into the last category. Even if it’s for our own good, we can’t stand being muzzled, and as the pandemic restrictions grow more ridiculous, our patience is wearing thin. This frustration is not out of disrespect for others, either.
If I choose to visit Rome, I do as the Romans do. The problem is that Rome moved its border to my doorstep, and if Pennsylvania’s ghoulish health secretary is any indication, the centurions are itching to step inside and start barking orders.
Our Germs, Our Selves
Dr. Anthony Fauci and other health authorities are suggesting nationwide masking and rolling lockdowns into 2022, vaccine or not. How long before they start deploying robot compliance officers, like Japan’s insidious Robovie?
The only way out is to demand control of our own bodies as a matter of religious freedom. No one wants anyone’s grandma to die — not unless her “consumption” has outstripped her “contribution,” anyway. The thing is, many of us have ceased to believe that our allegedly virus-laden breath is surely going to kill her — and if it will, she should be isolated, not us. We can take care of ourselves.
Look, I’m not heartless. If I thought wearing a Bozo nose would save lives, I’d wear one to bed. If these makeshift masks are nothing more than terror management for germaphobes, however, what’s the point? Personally, I’d rather shake a magic bone-rattle at the sky. The gods would prefer that, too.