Masks: Not for Yourself, But for Others

From Reason Magazine, an article by Ronald Bailey:

Masks Not Very Effective at Protecting Wearers, Says New Danish Study
But masks are still likely to prevent infected people from transmitting the virus.


The way Our Betters are shouting, I was growing more confident that everything they said and do had nothing about slowing the virus, and everything about showing how much control they had.

Still: when the mainstream actually do have some science on their side, it should be noted.

The urgency of trying to control the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred public health researchers to search for evidence-based measures that might work to protect the public from becoming infected. Non-pharmaceutical interventions have ranged from hard lockdowns to recommendations on social distancing and consistent hand hygiene. Along with those interventions, researchers have sought to evaluate the usefulness of wearing face masks as a way to possibly slow the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

New research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine finds that masks don’t appear to protect the people wearing them, but are still likely to prevent sick people who wear them from spreading their illness.

This research may receive a hostile reception from some quarters, but it’s important to learn everything we can about when and how masks work. Masks may mitigate the pandemic by preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus from infected people to others (source control), by protecting wearers (protective effect), or both. Among other evidence considered by researchers and public health officials are the equivocal results of older face mask studies done well before the current public health emergency (and far less urgently), along with observational studies that try to tease out their efficacy or lack thereof on the fly.

Randomized controlled trials (RCT), in which one group of participants is randomly assigned the treatment while the control group receives standard care, are the gold standard for determining the efficacy of medical treatments. For example, recent COVID-19 vaccine RCTs report that those inoculations are 95 percent effective in preventing viral infections. However, earlier facial covering RCTs have been generally too small to securely rule in or rule out treatment effects. In many studies, adherence to the study protocols was somewhat inconsistent.

Earlier this year, as the pandemic was taking hold, a team of Danish researchers launched an RCT to assess whether recommending the use of a surgical mask outside the home reduces wearers’ risk for COVID-19 infection. In the study, a total of 3,030 participants were randomly assigned to the recommendation to wear masks, and 2,994 were assigned to the control group. Both groups were urged to maintain recommended social distancing and hygiene practices. The participants were tested after a month to see if they had developed antibodies to the virus. The study was designed to find out if wearing masks would reduce the coronavirus infection rate among wearers compared to non-wearers by more than 50 percent in a community setting with modest infection rates.

In their article, published by the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the researchers report that: “In this community-based, randomized controlled trial conducted in a setting where mask-wearing was uncommon and was not among other recommended public health measures related to COVID-19, a recommendation to wear a surgical mask when outside the home among others did not reduce, at conventional levels of statistical significance, incident [COVID-19] infection compared with no mask recommendation.”

In other words, in this study, wearing a mask did not significantly reduce a person’s risk of COVID-19 infection compared to the risks facing those who did not wear masks. The authors noted that their “findings are inconclusive, with CIs [confidence intervals] compatible with a 46% decrease to a 23% increase in infection.” A confidence interval is a range of values in which the researchers are fairly sure the true value lies. As an accompanying editorial in the journal explained, “The evidence excludes a large personal protective effect, weakly supports lesser degrees of protection, and cannot statistically exclude no effect.”

So what do you know?

The masks don’t help you… but they measurably do help others.

As such, it can reasonably be considered an aspect of Christian charity at this moment of time.

I still don’t believe that the State has any permit to force people to wear masks, though: especially in regard to a mere flu, however potent. The State is not our Mother and Father, nor it is our Healer or Saviour.

And it is certainly not our God, who owns us, our thoughts, and actions, and all we have.

Wear the mask? Sure!

But ditch the idol.


For a different article on the same study – but a more strongly anti-mask stance – see Major Study Finds Masks Don’t Reduce COVID-19 Infection Rates


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