No Masks, Please, We’re Rational
Maskaholics are incorrigible. The rest of us should pay them no heed.
Unfazed by data, scientific research, or common sense, the maskaholics are back. In response to an uptick in Covid cases, they’ve begun reinstating mask mandates. So far, it’s just a few places—a college in Atlanta, a Hollywood studio, two hospitals in Syracuse—but the mainstream media and their favorite “experts” are working hard to scare the rest of us into masking up yet again.
Never mind that at least 97 percent of Americans have Covid antibodies in their blood as a result of infection, vaccination, or both. Never mind that actual experts—the ones who studied the scientific literature before 2020 and drew up plans for a pandemic—advised against masking the public. Never mind that their advice has been further bolstered during the pandemic by randomized clinical trials and rigorous observational studies failing to find an effect of masks and mask mandates. Scientific evidence cannot overcome the maskaholics’ faith.
It’s tempting to compare them with the villagers in Cambodia who erected scarecrows in front of their huts to ward off the coronavirus—but that’s not fair to the villagers. Their Ting Mong, as the magic scarecrows are called, at least didn’t hurt any of their neighbors. The mask mandates imposed harms on the public that were well known before Covid, which was why occupational-safety regulations limited workers’ mask usage. Dozens of studies had demonstrated “Mask-Induced Exhaustion Syndrome,” whose symptoms include an increase of carbon dioxide in the blood, difficulty breathing, dizziness, drowsiness, headache, and diminished ability to concentrate and think. It was no surprise during the pandemic when adverse effects of masks were reported in a study of health-care workers in New York City. More than 70 percent of the workers said that prolonged mask-wearing gave them headaches, and nearly a quarter blamed it for “impaired cognition.”
A possibly toxic effect of prolonged mask-wearing, particularly for pregnant women, children, and adolescents, was identified in a review of the scientific literature published this year by German researchers. They warn that mask-wearers are rebreathing carbon dioxide at levels linked with adverse effects on the body’s cardiovascular, respiratory, cognitive, and reproductive systems. Writing for City Journal, Jeffrey Anderson summarized their conclusions: “While eight times the normal level of carbon dioxide is toxic, research suggests that mask-wearers (specifically those who wear masks for more than 5 minutes at a time) are breathing in 35 to 80 times normal levels.”
Because of research linking elevated carbon dioxide levels with stillbirths, the German researchers note, the U.S. Navy began limiting the level on its submarines when female crews began serving. The researchers warn that this level of carbon dioxide is often exceeded when wearing a mask, especially an N95 mask, and they point to “circumstantial evidence” that mask usage may be related to the increase in stillbirths worldwide (including in the U.S.) during the pandemic. They also observe that no such increase occurred in Sweden, where the vast majority of citizens followed the government’s recommendation not to wear masks.
No drug with all these potential side effects would be recommended, much less mandated, for the entire population—and a drug that flunked its clinical trials wouldn’t even be submitted for approval. Yet the Centers for Disease Control, disdaining any cost-benefit analysis, continues to recommend masking for all Americans on indoor public transportation, and for everyone living in areas with high rates of Covid transmission. At the start of the pandemic, even Anthony Fauci advised against masks because there was no evidence of their efficacy. But then, in response to media hysteria, he and the CDC went on to recommend masks anyway, and justified themselves by citing cherry-picked data and consistently flawed studies.
Meanwhile, the CDC and its shills have continued to ignore or downplay the much stronger evidence against masks, most notably a review of randomized clinical trials published in January by Cochrane, the preeminent authority for evaluating medical evidence. The Cochrane review concluded that wearing a mask of any kind “probably makes little or no difference” in reducing the spread of Covid, flu, or respiratory illnesses. Maskaholics were reduced to arguing that the masks’ effects were too subtle to be detected in clinical trials. (Imagine a drug company trying to make that argument to the Food and Drug Administration.) But the masks’ futility was also evident in Covid trends around the world. Unmasked Swedes fared much better than other Europeans forced to wear masks. A 2021 study comparing states across the U.S. found no association between mask mandates and the spread of Covid. The mandates’ irrelevance was especially obvious in a graph tracking weekly changes in Covid rates and mask policies during the first two years of the pandemic: the weekly rates of Covid infection in states without mask mandates remained steadily the same as in states with mandates. There was also virtually no difference in the rates of cumulative mortality (the rate was slightly lower in the states without the mandates).
Similar results were reported this year in an extensive analysis published in The Lancet by several dozen researchers from six universities. Their study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which can hardly be accused of an anti-mask bias, given that Bill Gates has already drawn up plans for imposing mask mandates and lockdown measures around the world. (The authoritarian enthusiasms in his book, How to Prevent the Next Pandemic, prompted an article in the Daily Sceptic: “We Must Find a Way to Prevent Bill Gates from Preventing the Next Pandemic.”)
The Lancet analysis compared Covid outcomes in the 50 states with the states’ varying policy responses. It found that a state’s cumulative rates of infection and mortality were not significantly related to restrictions on public gatherings, to stay-at-home orders, or to closures of primary schools, colleges, restaurants, bars, or gyms. The political affiliation of a state’s governor also made no difference. The verdict on mask mandates was especially grim. The researchers found that a mandate had no significant effect on cumulative Covid infections or mortality, but that it did correlate with one statistically significant effect: a decline in fourth-graders’ test scores. That’s not hard to explain, considering the evidence that masks interfere with children’s ability to learn. What’s inexplicable is the singular cruelty of America toward children. All European countries have followed the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO) not to mask children under age six, and some haven’t masked children under 12, but the CDC continues recommending masks for children two years old and above—while denying that there are any adverse effects.
The CDC’s misinformation, unfortunately, continues to be spread by the media and by censors on social-media platforms. In 2021, when I described peer-reviewed research about the harms of masking children, Facebook labeled my article “Partly False.” City Journal appealed the ruling to Facebook’s monitors, an outside group called Science Feedback, which failed to identify any inaccuracies. Yet Science Feedback not only refused to remove the label but also flatly claimed, against the guidance of the WHO, that masks were safe for children as young as two. The group has since continued to put warning labels on articles challenging the efficacy of masks, and it still ignores or dismisses the strong evidence of masks’ futility, even the clinical trials reviewed by Cochrane. While conceding that “randomized controlled trials are considered the gold standard,” Science Feedback rejects the Cochrane review in favor of weak short-term observational studies that other researchers have criticized severely for flawed methodology and unwarranted conclusions.
Is there any cure for maskaholism? The “fact-checkers” at Science Feedback seem immune to genuine science feedback, but there ought to be someone at Facebook with the sense not to keep employing them. The CDC’s current leaders and their media acolytes are probably beyond hope, too, if only because they’d have to admit how wrong they have been for so long. But there’s no reason for the rest of us to heed them. The next time someone urges you to put on a mask, tell them you’re already protected against Covid by your magic scarecrow.
John Tierney is a contributing editor of City Journal and coauthor of The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It.
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-Photo: skynesher/iStockAlso by John Tierney