Originally posted October 29, 2020.
In my previous article, ‘Dracula Has Come to America,’ I argued that the belief face masks will protect you from COVID-19 is based on superstition, not science. This companion article presents the evidence that led me to that controversial position.
When I delved into the medical and scientific literature, I expected to find convincing arguments for and against face masks. From the beginning I have taken the position that persons with serious immune problems—or in close proximity to such people (such as family or healthcare workers)—should wear masks out of caution, since this coronavirus targets people with such immune problems.
What I discovered instead, to my great surprise, is that there have been serious doubts about the efficacy of face masks even for surgeons and dentists—the situations that led us to associate face masks favorably in such medical situations, B.C. (before the coronavirus). No doubt their long-term use during surgery has paved the way for their acceptance now as virus-barriers. But apparently this has been an assumed, not proven, belief, held without proper examination even by most of the medical practitioners using the masks. We rebel against such an idea because we instinctively want—need—to think that our medical class is above such herd mentality. But they aren’t perfect by any means, and I’ve run into this phenomenon before. For example, the beliefs that cholesterol causes heart disease, and that fat, eggs, butter are bad for us. Your doctor may still be preaching such disproven assertions to you.
I will continue to support the voluntary use of masks by the immunocompromised—I’ve been to enough mind-body sessions to understand that non-rational beliefs, including myths, can affect our health in such situations as much as statistics and data. But I now stand more vehemently than before against the use of face masks by the general public, and believe they have been promoted for the false reasons I discussed in my previous article.
Here is most of the literature that led me to this position—over 70 citations. Because of space limitations, these are mostly descriptive citations, but of course, you can read and dissect the source articles as much as you want—just click on the links that I provide. I have added boldface at times to highlight key words and topics.
Face Masks and Surgery
✔ Evidence that masks are ineffective even during surgery comes in an email from Arthur Firstenberg, an expert and author on the health effects of electromagnetic radiation. He cites these 17 studies:
- ”Is a mask necessary in the operating theatre?” by Dr. Neil W. M. Orr, in the 1981 Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England: “It would appear that minimum contamination can best be achieved by not wearing a mask at all” and that wearing a mask during surgery “is a standard procedure that could be abandoned.”
- Ritter et al., in 1975, found that “the wearing of a surgical face mask had no effect upon the overall operating room environmental contamination.”
- Ha’en and Wiley, in 1980, applied human albumin microspheres to the interior of surgical masks in 20 operations. At the end of each operation, wound washings were examined under the microscope. “Particle contamination of the wound was demonstrated in all experiments.”
- Laslett and Sabin, in 1989, found that caps and masks were not necessary during cardiac catheterization. “No infections were found in any patient, regardless of whether a cap or mask was used,” they wrote. Sjol and Kelbaek came to the same conclusion in 2002.
- In Tunevall’s 1991 study, a general surgical team wore no masks in half of their surgeries for two years. After 1,537 operations performed with masks, the wound infection rate was 4.7%, while after 1,551 operations performed without masks, the wound infection rate was only 3.5%.
- A review by Skinner and Sutton in 2001 concluded that “The evidence for discontinuing the use of surgical face masks would appear to be stronger than the evidence available to support their continued use.”
- Lahme et al., in 2001, wrote that “surgical face masks worn by patients during regional anaesthesia, did not reduce the concentration of airborne bacteria over the operation field in our study. Thus they are dispensable.”
- Figueiredo et al., in 2001, reported that in five years of doing peritoneal dialysis without masks, rates of peritonitis in their unit were no different than rates in hospitals where masks were worn.
- Bahli did a systematic literature review in 2009 and found that “no significant difference in the incidence of postoperative wound infection was observed between masks groups and groups operated with no masks.”
- Surgeons at the Karolinski Institute in Sweden, recognizing the lack of evidence supporting the use of masks, ceased requiring them in 2010 for anesthesiologists and other non-scrubbed personnel in the operating room. “Our decision to no longer require routine surgical masks for personnel not scrubbed for surgery is a departure from common practice. But the evidence to support this practice does not exist,” wrote Dr. Eva Sellden.
- Webster et al., in 2010, reported on obstetric, gynecological, general, orthopaedic, breast, and urological surgeries performed on 827 patients. All non-scrubbed staff wore masks in half the surgeries, and none of the non-scrubbed staff wore masks in half the surgeries. Surgical site infections occurred in 11.5% of the Mask group, and in only 9.0% of the No Mask group.
- Lipp and Edwards reviewed the surgical literature in 2014 and found “no statistically significant difference in infection rates between the masked and unmasked group in any of the trials.” Vincent and Edwards updated this review in 2016 and the conclusion was the same.
- Caroe, in a 2014 review based on four studies and 6,006 patients, wrote that “none of the four studies found a difference in the number of post-operative infections whether you used a surgical mask or not.”
- Salassa and Swiontkowski, in 2014, investigated the necessity of scrubs, masks, and head coverings in the operating room and concluded that “there is no evidence that these measures reduce the prevalence of surgical site infection.”
- Da Zhou et al., reviewing the literature in 2015, concluded that “there is a lack of substantial evidence to support claims that facemasks protect either patient or surgeon from infectious contamination.”
Firstenberg also notes: “Schools in China are now prohibiting students from wearing masks while exercising. Why? Because it was killing them. It was depriving them of oxygen and it was killing them.”
Face Masks and Dentists
✔ CENSORED: An article for dental professionals, “Why Face Masks Don’t Work: A Revealing Review,” by John Hardie, BDS, MSc, PhD, FRCDC, was published in OralHealth but “it has been removed” as it “is no longer relevant in our current climate,” says the journal.
For some revealing quotes from that article, which give you an idea why it was censored, see “Fact #6” here. It turns out, however, that the entire article has been retrieved by the Wayback Machine (web.archive.org), so you can judge for yourself whether it makes its case. I think you will see it is a solidly, even tediously documented article, and you will understand why it had to be removed due to the “current climate.”
“In her 2014 article, “Germs and the Pseudoscience of Quality Improvement,” Dr. K Sibert, an anesthetist with an interest in infection control, is of the opinion that many infection control rules are indeed arbitrary, not justified by the available evidence or subjected to controlled follow-up studies, but are devised, often under pressure, to give the appearance of doing something.” (Sibert K. Germs and the Pseudoscience of Quality Improvement. California Society of Anesthesiologists, December 8, 2014.)
Dr. Hardie notes that “Early studies of airborne transmissions were hampered by the fact that the investigators were not able to detect small particles” of airborne transmissions, but now we can, which makes the old conclusions obsolete. If you are interested in the scientific case, see his comments under “Airborne Transmissions” and “Respiratory System Defences.”
In his history under “Face Masks,” he then provides five citations where “Literature reviews have confirmed that wearing a mask during surgery has no impact whatsoever on wound infection rates during clean surgery.” He discusses why this is so even for surgeons and surgical nurses under “Structure and Fit,” “Filtering Capacity,” and “Performance Standards.”
Then, under “The Inadequacies,” he presents a dozen “research or review articles that have been published on the inadequacies of face masks.”
And after that, even more citations, from the principal researcher of the New Zealand Nurses Organization, and doctors writing in the New England Journal of Medicine.
You can see why this article had to be censored by the authorities. If face masks are ineffective even for surgeons and dentists, why do we think they will protect us against the coronavirus?
Face Masks and the General Public
✔ Seven authors associated with the University of Hong Kong studied 14 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and their article appeared in Emerging Infectious Diseases (May 2020), published by CDC—the Centers for Disease Control. Among their conclusions:
“Evidence from 14 randomized controlled trials of these measures did not support a substantial effect on transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza.”
“We identified 10 RCTs that reported estimates of the effectiveness of face masks in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza virus infections in the community from literature published during 1946–July 27, 2018. In pooled analysis, we found no significant reduction in influenza transmission with the use of face masks.”
Tight-fitting masks, such as N95 masks, “work best when they are fit-tested, and these masks will be in limited supply during the next pandemic. These specialist devices should be reserved for use in healthcare settings or in special subpopulations such as immunocompromised persons in the community, first responders, and those performing other critical community functions, as supplies permit.”
“Proper use of face masks is essential because improper use might increase the risk for transmission.”
If face masks do not work on influenza transmission, why would they work for the harder-to-prevent transmission of the coronavirus?
✔ CENSORED: This article from the April 6, 2020 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine by more than a dozen authors has been retracted because of “reader comments.” Could this conclusion be the real reason for the retraction: “In conclusion, both surgical and cotton masks seem to be ineffective…”
✔ From Ontario, Canada we have this “Working Report” by Denis G. Rancourt, PhD, former tenured and Full Professor of physics at the University of Ottawa, Canada. He has published over 100 scientific articles and is the author of the book Hierarchy and Free Expression in the Fight Against Racism. If you read the scientific parts of his report, you will understand why a physics professor is interested in this topic.
In his review of the medical literature (published at Research Gate: “Masks Don’t Work—A review of science relevant to COVID-19 social policy”) he cites seven studies that establish “that wearing surgical masks and respirators (e.g., ‘N95’) does not reduce the risk of contracting a verified illness.”
Some of these studies are themselves meta-analysis citing numerous studies. He concludes:
“No RCT [randomized controlled trial] study with verified outcome shows a benefit for HCW [health care workers] or community members in households to wearing a mask or respirator. There is no such study. There are no exceptions.
“Likewise, no study exists that shows a benefit from a broad policy to wear masks in public.
“Furthermore, if there were any benefit to wearing a mask, because of the blocking power against droplets and aerosol particles, then there should be more benefit from wearing a respirator (N95) compared to a surgical mask, yet several large meta-analyses, and all the RCT, prove that there is no such relative benefit.
“Masks and respirators do not work.”
He then explains in detail the “Physics and Biology of Viral Respiratory Disease and of Why Masks Do Not Work” and “Why There Can Never Be an Empirical Test of a Nation-Wide Mask-Wearing Policy.”
Finally, he considers nine “unanswered questions” suggesting that “Many potential harms may arise from broad public policies to wear masks.”
His Final Conclusion:
“The present paper about masks illustrates the degree to which governments, the mainstream media, and institutional propagandists can decide to operate in a science vacuum, or select only incomplete science that serves their interests. Such recklessness is also certainly the case with the current global lockdown of over 1 billion people, an unprecedented experiment in medical and political history.”
For access to his PDF go to https://jbhandleyblog.com/home/lockdownlunacy? and scroll down to “Fact #6.”
✔ From the New England Journal of Medicine by Michael Klompas, M.D., M.P.H., and four other authors: “Universal Masking in Hospitals in the Covid-19 Era”: “We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection…. In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic.” See here and here.
✔ GreenMedinfo has compiled 34 abstracts in its “Face Masks (Lack of Safety and Ineffectiveness Research) Research” database. Indeed, one abstract states that “Cloth masks might facilitate transmission of pathogens when used repeatedly without adequate sterilization.” (And when did you last adequately sterilize your mask?)
✔ Andrew Bostom of Brown University in a July 11, 2020, post in Medium: “… limited, immediate-term experimental observations — equivocal at best — provide no rational, evidence-based justification for daily, prolonged mask usage by the general public to prevent infection with COVID-19.”
✔ Russell Blaylock, M.D., a prominent neurosurgeon, and author, warns that not only do face masks fail to protect the healthy from getting sick, but they also create serious health risks to the wearer. The bottom line is that if you are not sick, you should not wear a face mask.
“Now that we have established that there is no scientific evidence necessitating the wearing of a face mask for prevention, are there dangers to wearing a face mask, especially for long periods? Several studies have indeed found significant problems with wearing such a mask…
“There is another danger to wearing these masks on a daily basis, especially if worn for several hours. When a person is infected with a respiratory virus, they will expel some of the virus with each breath. If they are wearing a mask, especially an N95 mask or other tightly fitting mask, they will be constantly rebreathing the viruses, raising the concentration of the virus in the lungs and the nasal passages. We know that people who have the worst reactions to the coronavirus have the highest concentrations of the virus early on. And this leads to the deadly cytokine storm in a selected number.
“It gets even more frightening…”
✔ In conclusion, for his overviews of the mask controversy, see these articles by one of America’s foremost alternative health practitioners, Dr. Joseph Mercola:
“Masks—The Most Controversial COVID-19 Debate?”
“Masks Likely Do Not Inhibit Viral Spread”
Some Views from Abroad
“The land with no face masks: Holland’s top scientists say there’s no solid evidence coverings work and warn they could even damage the fight against Covid-19” (Mail Online, London, August 4, 2020) reports:
“While 120 countries in the world, including much of Europe, have ordered citizens to wear masks in public places to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the Dutch are doing things differently.
“The nation’s top scientists, having examined key data and research, have declared there is no firm evidence to back the use of face coverings. Indeed, they argue that wearing the wretched things may actually hamper the fight against disease.
“’Face masks in public places are not necessary, based on all the current evidence,’ said Coen Berends, spokesman for the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. ‘There is no benefit and there may even be negative impact.’
“Holland’s position is based on assessments by the Outbreak Management Team, a group of experts advising the government. It first ruled against masks in May and has re-evaluated the evidence several times, including again last week. ‘The evidence for them is contradictory. In general, we think you must be careful with face masks because they can give a false sense of security. People think they’re immune from disease or stop social distancing. That is very negative.’
“Hoebe, head of infectious disease control in Zuid-Limburg, the region hit hardest when the pandemic struck Holland, pointed to a Norwegian study showing 200,000 people must wear surgical masks for one week to stop a single Covid-19 case.
“The World Health Organisation has also been sceptical, warning that ‘widespread use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not yet supported by high-quality or direct scientific evidence.’” (Obviously this is before WHO succumbed to pressure to change its position.)
✔ And Holland isn’t the only European country that is mask-averse. See this very intelligent interview of Sweden’s Anders Tegnell [a physician specializing in infectious disease and the state epidemiologist of Sweden], the architect of its unique response to the pandemic: “Why we aren’t wearing masks in Sweden.”
Tegnell discusses their overall success and explains the matter of different national death rates. On the matter of masks he says: “One reason is that the evidence base for using masks in society is still very weak. Even if more and more countries are now enforcing them in different ways … we haven’t seen any new evidence coming up, which is a little bit surprising.”
In contrast, France’s socialist/totalitarian President, Emmanuel Macron, in agreement with our American totalitarians, says: “I would like to make masks mandatory in all enclosed public spaces.”
And: “Wearing a mask in enclosed public spaces will be mandatory in the coming weeks.”
I present these foreign views only because they reveal what you already knew, that this mask controversy is worldwide in scope. I do not feel we need to copy any other country, though I certainly prefer the individualistic Dutch and the courageous Swedes over the hopelessly collectivist French.
America has been exceptional and unique in the past when we do not copy the failed policies imported from Europe or the rest of the world. We must reject those failed policies whether generally political—fascism and communism—or as it relates to specific issues such as face masks.
And see all my articles in this pandemic series.