Prior to the mask mandate for K-12, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson sent a letter to Governor Herbert on June 23, 2020 requesting approval of a county-wide mask mandate. She referenced two studies that “confirm the effectiveness of face coverings, reducing the transmission risk 75%-82%”.
· Chan, J.F-W et. al (2020, May 30). Surgical Mask Partition Reduces the Risk of Non-contact Transmission in a Golden Syrian Hamster Model for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Clinical Infectious Diseases, ciaa644, https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciaa644
· Chu, D. K. et. al (2020, June 27). Physical Distancing, Face Masks, and Eye Protection to Prevent Person-to-Person Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.
A closer examination of these studies demonstrates that the findings DO NOT support the effectiveness of community-wide mask usage, but rather confirm what other studies have shown, that is, there is effectiveness in reducing transmission when a symptomatic infected person wears a mask, as well as those caring for a symptomatic infected person. Jenny Wilson was misleading at best, intentionally deceptive at worst. Allow me to elaborate.
Chan et al. (2020) studied non-contact transmission between a COVID-19 infected hamster and healthy hamsters in a closed setting for up to 96 hours of continuous exposure with the hamsters positioned less than 6 ft. apart. The parameters of this study do not remotely resemble community contact and should not have been used as evidence to support a county-wide mask mandate. With that said, the results were mixed. Researchers did not find a statistically significant difference when the healthy hamster utilized the protective side of the surgical mask material to reduce transmission. They did find 75% reduction in transmission when the infected hamster utilized the protective side of the mask material. Once again, this only supports what the majority of people agree upon – transmission is significantly reduced when symptomatic infected people wear a mask. Quarantines and mask usage of symptomatic infected people is consistent with the data. Mandating healthy people to wear a mask with minimal community exposure to infected people IS NOT supported by the data.
Chu et al. (2020) performed a meta-analysis, which typically are robust research studies, however, this study had many flaws which limits the credibility of their findings. For example, their sample size was 25,821 people, which seems impressive on the surface but upon closer examination, 43% of the people had “probable” cases instead of “confirmed” cases. Additionally, a vast majority of the cases were in health care settings or household/family contacts. Only 6.7% of their sample size were “confirmed” cases of non-health care community contacts, which is the only group that should be used to determine the efficacy of mandating masks in the community. Furthermore, the findings that Jenny Wilson touted “transmission of COVID-19 without a face covering or respirator (like an N95 mask) was 17.4%, while that fell to 3.1% with a covering worn” was an estimated effect in which the researchers admitted they have low certainty that this matches with a real effect. In fact, the researchers stated “our findings accord with those of a cluster randomized trial showing a potential benefit of continuous N95 respirator use over medical masks against seasonal viral infection.” It’s important to note that the study these researchers are declaring their findings align with is a study conducted by McIntyre et al. (2015). This study was on the efficacy of cloth masks vs surgical masks in preventing infection for health care workers. More importantly this study was conducted long before the politicization of COVID-19. McIntyre et al. (2015) had a sample size of 1,067 health care workers. The penetration of cloth masks from particles was 97% and medical masks 44%, meaning cloth masks were only 3% effective at blocking virus particles. This study cautioned people from using cloth masks because of the “moisture retention, reuse of cloth masks, and poor filtration which can lead to an increased risk of infection.”
As often happens, policy makers and mainstream media twist results to support their course of action. Unfortunately, it appears that Mayor Wilson and Governor Herbert fell into this trap. The studies she used to support her request for mandating masks for nearly 1.1 million people DO NOT support the efficacy of masks in reducing the risk of transmission among community contacts.
We are living in times when nearly every outlet of public communication is echoing the same narrative - "healthy people wearing masks is beneficial for the overall health of our community". This is called an "echo chamber" and is often taught in Psychology 101. If you want to convince the public of the veracity of a particular viewpoint, repeat it again and again and again. Before long, people will come to believe that because everyone is saying it, it therefore must be true. This is a common strategy of propaganda. Instead, I want to offer you an alternative perspective from this "mainstream" narrative.
I am a psychologist and I am deeply concerned with the psychological ramifications of children and young people being forced to wear a mask in order to attend school. It is detrimental to their mental health, as well as their physical health. People, especially children and adolescents, need to breathe freely without a reduction in oxygen. Reduced oxygen levels weaken the immune system, create headaches, lethargy, loss of concentration and could result in hypoxia. Furthermore, we need to breathe freely so our microbiomes can interact with each other. This is the key to a healthy community, it always has been, until COVID-19 somehow redefined our common sense. The fear, panic, anxiety and stress that people have experienced as a result of COVID-19 has changed the nature of human relationships. It's been disheartening to observe that in a matter of just a few months, people have radically altered how they view one another. People now see others as potential disease carriers rather than as friends, family, neighbors, co-workers. Do we really want to perpetuate this among our younger generation? This change in human interaction, if left unchecked, will develop an epigenetic marker upon our DNA that could trigger changes for generations to come. It has the likelihood of taxing the mental health of our younger generation that already has an incredibly high suicide rate. As adults, I believe it is imperative that we protect our young people from such an affront to their well-being.
It seems that the fear and panic perpetuated by the media and our public officials has caused people to lose their ability to think critically and rely on common sense. Prior to COVID-19, it was common sense that if you had a fever, cough and runny nose you would stay home from work and/or school. People would naturally quarantine themselves as a way to restore full health. It's common sense that masks are beneficial for those who are symptomatic with an infection, or for those in a high-risk category, or for those caring for someone in one of these two categories, BUT it is not beneficial for healthy people to wear masks. Unfortunately, our public officials have twisted the scientific studies to support their desired course of action which, in this case, is to mandate masks.