In a case-control investigation of people with COVID-19 who visited 11 U.S. health care facilities, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report revealed factors associated with getting the disease.1
People who spent time around others with COVID-19 had an increased risk, as did those who dined in restaurants. Those who reported going to restaurants or bars were twice as likely to have a positive test for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as those who did not.
This was the main focus of the report, with the researchers stating, “Exposures and activities where mask use and social distancing are difficult to maintain, including going to places that offer on-site eating or drinking, might be important risk factors for acquiring COVID-19.”2
But buried in a table at the end of the report were numbers related to the reported use of cloth face coverings or masks in the 14 days before becoming ill. The majority of them — 70.6% — reported that they “always” wore a mask, but they still got sick.
More People Wearing a Mask Got COVID Than Those Who Didn’t
Among the interview respondents who became ill, 108, or 70.6%, said they always wore a mask, compared to six, or 3.9%, who said they “never” did, and six more, or 3.9%, who said they “rarely” did. Taken together, this shows that, of the symptomatic adults with COVID-19, 70.6% always wore a mask and still got sick, compared to 7.8% for those who rarely or never did.3
The findings call into question the effectiveness of masks for preventing COVID-19, a controversial practice that’s been mandated in many parts of the world.
You may remember that in the early days of the pandemic, health officials spoke out against the use of masks and discouraged Americans from wearing them, then did an about-face and said they’re essential for lowering your risk. As noted by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS):4
“COVID-19 is as politically-charged as it is infectious. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO, the CDC and NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci discouraged wearing masks as not useful for non-health care workers.
Now they recommend wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are hard to do (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies). The recommendation was published without a single scientific paper or other information provided to support that cloth masks actually provide any respiratory protection.”
Cloth Masks Are Useless Against Aerosolized Particulates
As AAPS pointed out, the theory behind cloth mask wearing is that the mask may trap droplets that come out of your mouth if you cough or sneeze. However, large respiratory droplets, which are greater than 5 micrometers/microns (μm), only remain in the air for a short time and can only travel for short distances, falling to the ground instead. This is why the CDC recommends maintaining social distancing of 6 feet from others.5
“Public health authorities define a significant exposure to COVID-19 as face-to-face contact within 6 feet with a patient with symptomatic COVID-19 that is sustained for at least a few minutes (and some say more than 10 minutes or even 30 minutes),” AAPS explains, adding, “The chance of catching COVID-19 from a passing interaction in a public space is therefore minimal.”6
Further, there’s evidence that aerosol transmission is involved in the spread of SARS-CoV-2,7 which are 0.125 μm in size. Friday September 18, 2020, the CDC posted updated COVID-19 guidance on its “How COVID-19 Spreads” page that, for the first time, mentioned aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2, saying “this is thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”8
The CDC then deleted the mention of aerosols and the possibility of spread beyond 6 feet the following Monday, September 21, saying a draft version of proposed changes had been posted “in error.”9
It’s a noteworthy difference, if SARS-CoV-2 is spread via aerosolized droplets, which research suggests,10 as such droplets remain in the air for at least three hours and can travel over long distances of up to 27 feet.11 Further, it adds to the likelihood that cloth masks do little to stop you from getting COVID-19. AAPS explained:12
“The preponderance of scientific evidence supports that aerosols play a critical role in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Years of dose response studies indicate that if anything gets through, you will become infected. Thus, any respiratory protection respirator or mask must provide a high level of filtration and fit to be highly effective in preventing the transmission of SARS-CoV-2.”
Surgeon’s Analysis Shows Masks Are Ineffective and Harmful
Dr. Jim Meehan, an ophthalmologist and preventive medicine specialist who has performed more than 10,000 surgical procedures and who is also a former editor of the medical journal Ocular Immunology and Inflammation, has peer-reviewed thousands of medical research studies.
He used this expertise to conduct an evidence-based scientific analysis on masks, which shows that not only should healthy people not be wearing masks but they could be harmed as a result.13
“Decades of the highest-level scientific evidence (meta-analyses of multiple randomized controlled trials) overwhelmingly conclude that medical masks are ineffective at preventing the transmission of respiratory viruses, including SAR-CoV-2,” he writes. “Those arguing for masks are relying on low-level evidence (observational retrospective trials and mechanistic theories), none of which are powered to counter the evidence, arguments, and risks of mask mandates.”14
He first points out that the notion of mask-wearing defies common sense and reason, considering that most of the population is at very low or almost no risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19. Children, especially, are at extremely low risk from this illness, making mask mandates in schools highly questionable.
“Based on CDC published data, 99.99815% of children that contract CoVID-19 survive,” Meehan states. “Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 among children in schools and daycares is very rare.”15 He compiled multiple studies that show masks are ineffective:
• A working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research16 found that nonpharmaceutical interventions, such as lockdowns, quarantines and mask mandates, have not significantly affected overall virus transmission rates.17
• A CDC meta-analysis found that face masks did little to reduce virus transmission in the case of influenza, stating, “Although mechanistic studies support the potential effect of hand hygiene or face masks, evidence from 14 randomized controlled trials of these measures did not support a substantial effect on transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza.”18
• A rapid systematic review of 31 studies concluded, “The evidence is not sufficiently strong to support widespread use of facemasks as a protective measure against COVID-19,” adding that there was evidence for their use only for “particularly vulnerable individuals when in transient higher risk situations.”19
• In a perspective article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers state, “We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection,” and go on to describe masks as playing a “symbolic role” as “talismans” to increase the perception of safety, even though “such reactions may not be strictly logical.”
“Expanded masking protocols’ greatest contribution may be to reduce the transmission of anxiety, over and above whatever role they may play in reducing transmission of Covid-19,” they add.20
• A commentary published by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy further added, “We do not recommend requiring the general public who do not have symptoms of COVID-19-like illness to routinely wear cloth or surgical masks because there is no scientific evidence they are effective in reducing the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission …”21
Cloth Masks Pose Risks, May Increase Transmission
In addition to being ineffective, Meehan is among many experts suggesting that wearing a mask may actually increase the risk of disease transmission.
A study published in 2015, which compared the use of cloth masks with medical masks in health care workers, found that health care workers wearing cloth masks had the highest rates of influenza-like illness and laboratory-confirmed respiratory virus infections, when compared to those wearing medical masks or controls.22
Compared to controls and the medical mask group, those wearing cloth masks had a 72% higher rate of lab-confirmed viral infections. And according to the authors, such masks may also increase infection risk:
“Penetration of cloth masks by particles was almost 97% and medical masks 44%. This study is the first RCT of cloth masks, and the results caution against the use of cloth masks. This is an important finding to inform occupational health and safety.
Moisture retention, reuse of cloth masks and poor filtration may result in increased risk of infection. Further research is needed to inform the widespread use of cloth masks globally. However, as a precautionary measure, cloth masks should not be recommended for HCWs [health care workers], particularly in high-risk situations …”
What’s more, for the general public, wearing cloth masks may not be a matter of “something is better than nothing,” as wearing them may be harmful. Children forced to wear masks for long periods could experience mental and psychological repercussions, in addition to potential physical risks. Meehan further compiled 17 ways that masks can cause harm:23
Medical masks adversely affect respiratory physiology and function
Medical masks lower oxygen levels in the blood
Medical masks raise carbon dioxide levels in the blood
SAR-CoV-2 has a “furin cleavage” site that makes it more pathogenic, and the virus enters cells more easily when arterial oxygen levels decline, which means wearing a mask could increase COVID-19 severity
Medical masks trap exhaled virus in the mouth/mask, increasing viral/infectious load and increasing disease severity
SARS-CoV-2 becomes more dangerous when blood oxygen levels decline
The furin cleavage site of SARS-CoV-2 increases cellular invasion, especially during low blood oxygen levels
Cloth masks may increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 and other respiratory infections
Wearing a face mask may give a false sense of security
Masks compromise communications and reduce social distancing
Untrained and inappropriate management of face masks is common
Masks worn imperfectly are dangerous
Masks collect and colonize viruses, bacteria and mold
Wearing a face mask makes the exhaled air go into the eyes
Contact tracing studies show that asymptomatic carrier transmission is very rare
Face masks and stay at home orders prevent the development of herd immunity
Face masks are dangerous and contraindicated for a large number of people with pre-existing medical conditions and disabilities
Why Are Mask Mandates Persisting?
With the lack of solid evidence to support mask use among the general population, it appears as though mask mandates are being used as political and psychological tools rather than one aimed at protecting public health.
Meehan concluded, “… the great weight of scientific evidence shows unmistakably that wearing face masks for extended periods is harmful to people’s health, safety and emotional well-being, especially to young children.”24
Around the world, calls for peaceful civil disobedience against mandatory masking are growing. The U.S. nonprofit Stand for Health Freedom is also calling for civil disobedience, and has a widget you can use to contact your government representatives to let them know wearing a mask must be a personal choice.
Keep in mind, too, that in many areas with mask mandates, the rules state that you must wear a mask “unless you can maintain a 6-foot distance.” You will need to check the local guidelines in your area, but in many cases if you are 6 feet away from others, you can forgo wearing a mask and still be in compliance with the mandate.