EDITORIAL: Face masks reconsidered, following science’s discovery of failure
The dissipation of the COVID-19 pandemic has made face masks primarily a fashion accessory under the chin or a catch-all in the back pocket. Yet COVID-19 is playing tricks on common sense as New York City drops its mask mandate for small children while Glacier National Park reinstates one for wilderness hikers. If, as science predicts, the virus is to become a cyclical cold-season peril, the effectiveness of respiratory barriers as a first line of defense against the virus should be reconsidered. New research highlights their inability to protect.
A study described in the journal Medicine, first published in February, looked at death rates from COVID-19 in Kansas, where counties were given the option to implement or waive mask mandates. . With 81 of 105 counties in the “Sunflower State” opting out, researchers studied data collected between August 1 and October 15, 2020, concluding: “The most important finding of this study is that unlike the accepted thought that fewer people are dying because infection rates are reduced by masks, this was not the case.
Instead, the study found evidence that counties with mask mandates suffered a 50% higher COVID-19 death rate than those without. The hypothetical cause: The virus lodges in the wearer’s mask, only to be inhaled deeper into the lungs, where it is more likely to cause death. The phenomenon has been dubbed the “Foegen effect”, after a German scientist who first theorized about virulent dynamics.
Similar evidence of mask failure emerged in an April study published in the National Library of Medicine. Studying data collected from 35 European countries, the researchers found that “widespread use of masks at a time when effective intervention was most needed, i.e. during the strong fall-winter 2020 peak -2021, was unable to reduce transmission of COVID-19 Moreover, the moderate positive correlation between mask use and deaths in Western Europe also suggests that universal mask use may have had unintended harmful consequences.
The findings of the studies are worrying. Attempting to “follow the science” during the pandemic, Americans have been forced into a game of hide and seek with the facts. White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci and other medical officials have notoriously discouraged mask use before making the use of one, two and more a symbol of social virtue. And the public was again puzzled when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first advised travelers to mask up to protect against a recent outbreak of monkeypox, then removed the advice as unnecessary.
If the face covering fails as a protective device, it nevertheless has its uses. Joe Biden, for his part, has made the mask the logo of his presidency. Mr. Biden took the stage at “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” last week sporting his signature black mask. Pausing momentarily to seal the symbol, he removed it to defend policies driving the US economy into recession.
Of course, pointing out virtue is not a crime. Lacking evidence of effectiveness against COVID-19, however, face masks should be a choice, not a mandate.