The Great Debate of 2020 Continues

A commentary on masking

The Washington Post recently had an article titled, Unlike the United States, more and more countries are making masks mandatory. The article says that France has made face coverings mandatory in all public enclosed spaces, and England is set to begin enforcing new rules that make masks compulsory inside supermarkets and other shops. Many cities across Canada are implementing mandatory mask bylaws. Many US states require mandatory masks in public spaces.

Along with those mandatory masking laws, I (#blogger #blog #somseason #YA #authors) am reading more and more reports of “covid mask bullying” (#bullying #antibullying).  In a Washington Post article,  a lady wearing a black mask is described who ambushed a California couple with a can of mace, scolding them for not wearing face masks and eating at the Dog Park. Another article by the Sun Sentinel describes a Walmart shopper who was charged with pulling a gun during mask dispute.  Newsweek reports on a Florida man, who wasn’t wearing a face mask,  who assaults a Walmart staff because he was denied entry into the store. Every day there seems to be a new article describing “covid mask bullying.”

The problem is the push for masking is dividing people into two groups: Those who feel safe when they, and those around them, are wearing masks, and those who want the freedom to choose. In my last post, I questioned the studies supporting masking. The data is pretty clear when it comes to physical distancing and frequent hand washing. They do reduce transmission. For masking, the data is not so clear. I wondered if I was wrong, so I set out to find definitive proof that masking is effective. I looked only at the most recent studies (June 2020 or later) and I only looked at the research papers themselves as opposed to the news article discussing them. News Media can misinform and mislead because of biases.

One study I looked at was updated June 15, 2020. It said in its conclusions:

Societal norms and government policies supporting the wearing of masks by the public, as well as international travel controls, are independently associated with lower per-capita mortality from COVID-19.

That sounds convincing, but then in its background it says:

There is wide variation between countries in per-capita mortality from COVID-19…Determinants of this variation are not fully understood.

I discussed in my last post the problems with comparing countries as every country uses different criteria for determining a covid death. This study’s background information seems to agree with me. For that reason, this study is not convincing.

In another study, dated August 2020, it says

The study suggests that community mask use by well people could be beneficial, particularly for COVID-19, where transmission may be pre-symptomatic.

There is one of those words again: ‘Could.’  That means possibly or might. That is not convincing. Moreover, at the bottom of the paper is a heading: Conflict of Interest. It says the researcher has received funding from 3M, an American multinational conglomerate corporation, more than 10 years prior for face mask research. For me, that makes the research bias and unreliable.

In yet another study published in June, it says:

In summary, our modelling analyses provide support for the immediate, universal adoption of face masks by the public.

It may provide support, but it hasn’t provided proof. Furthermore, this study uses mathematical modeling, a process of developing a mathematical model. A mathematical model is a description of a system using mathematical concepts and language.  According to Wikipedia, the complexity of a mathematical model involves “a trade-off between simplicity and accuracy of the model… While added complexity usually improves the realism of a model, it can make the model difficult to understand and analyze, and can also pose computational problems, including numerical instability.”  For me, that makes this study unconvincing.

In an article by Brigham Young University updated July 25, 2020 and titled, Making sense of the research on COVID-19 and masks, it says:

Researchers from hospitals, universities, the private sector, and government agencies have concluded that masks could be one of the most powerful and cost-effective tools to stop COVID-19 and accelerate the economic recovery. There is universal agreement, however, that masking alone will not be enough to stop the pandemic. Masking is most effective when combined with physical distancing, frequent hand washing, rapid testing, and coordinated contact tracing.

There is that word again: ‘Could.’  That means possibly or might. That is not convincing.

Furthermore, in a Health Cloud article titled, Are Statistics Reliable? it says most people think that statistics are truth. When you see a study that quotes a percentage in its findings, which many masking studies do, it is natural to believe it to be accurate. The truth is, statistics can be very misleading and are easily manipulated. Here is a simple example. Being bald increases your risk of cardiovascular disease by 70%! The risk of cardiovascular disease increases with age, and so does baldness.  However; this does not mean that baldness and cardiovascular disease are linked. That’s misleading!

I set out to find proof that masking works, yet, I am still no more convinced as I was before starting this post.  Studies saying masking may or could save lives simply are not convincing, and have no definitive proof. Mandating something without the proof that it is effective, especially when causing ‘covid mask bullying’  is wrong, plus it gives people a false sense of security. Enforcing physical distancing and insisting on hands washing makes sense because it has been shown to be effective. Any policy that pits people against one another, that is, those who feel safe when they and those around them are wearing masks, and those who want the freedom to choose should not be mandated.  It only escalates tensions between the two groups and causes ‘covid mask bullying.’

Before accusing me of being a conspiracy theorist, understand that I’m not saying masks fail to protect us. Of course they provide some protection since they are barrier to droplets released from someone. There is not enough convincing evidence that face mask decrease transmission to force people to wear them. Wearing a mask should be an individual’s choice.

The Great Debate of 2020

A commentary on mandatory masking

I (#blogger #blog #YA #authors) have been away camping for the past two weeks, and so I wasn’t able to check the news. I have to say, it was nice to be away from the sensationalized news stories, especially about covid, and the stories of civil unrest on our planet. Upon my return to civilization, I’ve learned that a debate is raging over mandatory mask wearing.  I was struck by the CBC News headline, OPP shoot man dead hours after mask dispute leads to alleged assault. The story says a man refused to wear a mask,  allegedly assaulted a grocery store employee, and then drove away. A police officer saw the car, followed it to the man’s home, and outside the home the two police officers fired their guns after some sort of “interaction.”  Another news article reports that an Ohio county launched a hotline to report people spotted without masks (see hotline). There were numerous stories about wearing masks. These are really stories about bullying (#bullying #antibullying) in my opinion; stories about masks verses no masks.

All across Canada there have been protests against mandatory mask wearing (see CTV News). Protests are occurring in the US as well. “Experts,” whoever they are, are telling us masks  protect us and those around us. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that healthy people wear masks over their mouths and noses when leaving their homes and entering places where physical distancing is difficult. The World Health Organization (WHO) released a list of recommendations, in early June, suggesting the most appropriate types of masks to wear in a variety of settings, including the use of non-medical masks in crowded places and on public transport. Now I’m hearing of city councils debating whether mask wearing should be mandatory in enclosed spaces.

I’ve seen social media posts arguing that making the public wear masks is no different than making wearing seat belts mandatory. I disagree, as this debate is not that simple. Statistics clearly show that seat belts save lives (see Seat Belt Statistics). Regarding mask protection, the experts don’t all agree. In other words, the research on mask usage doesn’t provide definitive proof that they work.

The news media sites many studies claiming to show that masks are effective. One such study in The Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal, says in its findings that “transmission of viruses was lower with physical distancing of 1 metre or more, compared with a distance of less than 1 metre.” Now I can accept that as the data shows definitive evidence. Then it says “face mask use could result in a large reduction in risk of infection, with stronger associations with N95 or similar respirators compared with disposable surgical masks or similar.” The problem I have with this statement is its use of the word could. The word ‘could’ means ‘possibly’. That is not definitive proof.

In Science Focus’ article, Coronavirus: Will face masks reduce transmission? it says in a “study which looked at coronavirus deaths across 198 countries found that nations which had policies favouring mask-wearing had lower death rates.”  Now that sounds convincing, but when I did research for my post titled, An Opportunity, Or Back to the Same?  I learned that what counts as a covid death varies, depending on the country. In my opinion, that makes this study misleading and unreliable. 

In Wired’s article, The Face Mask Debate Reveals a Scientific Double Standard, it says, “There are no large-scale clinical trials proving that personal use of masks can prevent pandemic spread.”  It sites a study on influenza where it states in its findings,

These findings suggest that face masks and hand hygiene may reduce respiratory illnesses in shared living settings and mitigate the impact of the influenza A(H1N1) pandemic.

There is another one of those words: ‘may’. The word ‘may’ means ‘possibly’. Again, this is not definitive proof.  In another study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it says:

We concluded that household use of masks is associated with low adherence and is ineffective in controlling seasonal ILI (influenza-like illness).

The data fails to show that masks are effective. Furthermore, one needs to look at how the study was done. How big was the test group? Was there a control group? Did the study follow strict scientific protocols? Who funded the study? As a retired science teacher, I taught the importance of doing science properly.

I’ve seen posts on my social media claiming masks may dangerously reduce oxygen levels. In USA Today Fact check, it quotes the Center for Disease Control (CDC) saying:

The CO2 will slowly build up in the mask over time. However, the level of CO2 likely to build up in the mask is mostly tolerable to people exposed to it … It is unlikely that wearing a mask will cause hypercapnia (Carbon dioxide toxicity).

There is one of those words again: ‘unlikely.” That means possibility. This doesn’t convince me.

The CDC told the international news organization, Reuters:

“The CO2 will slowly build up in the mask over time. However, the level of CO2 likely to build up in the mask is mostly tolerable to people exposed to it. You might get a headache but you most likely [would] not suffer the symptoms observed at much higher levels of CO2. The mask can become uncomfortable for a variety of reasons including a sensitivity to CO2 and the person will be motivated to remove the mask. It is unlikely that wearing a mask will cause hypercapnia.”​

There is that word again: ‘unlikely.” That means possibility. This doesn’t convince me either.

There are many arguments against mandating masks, such as, face masks can be uncomfortable. I haven’t worn them a lot, but when I have, I have found them to be uncomfortable. In fact, I tended to touch my face more with a mask on, which apparently is a “no no.” Another is face masks restrict airflow, or make breathing more difficult. That is true for me. Masks cause glasses to fog up, and I have personally experienced that. Masks force people to unintentionally draw closer to others during conversations. I would have to agree with this one as well, as I have a difficult time hearing what people wearing masks are saying as their words are muffled. Masks could foster a false sense of security. I have to agree, as I have yet to see a study saying masks are 100% effective against viruses and bacteria, but mask wearers may think they are 100% protected. Plus, people may think they are safe and take risks. Another argument is cloth masks could spread disease if unwashed. Let’s face it, walking around with a dirty face mask isn’t doing anyone any favours. Masks can cause skin irritation. I recall seeing lots of news articles showing health care workers with skin irritations back in March when covid numbers were raising, so that is true.

In light of what I have learned, do I think masks should be mandatory? No. I’ve not been convinced with what I’ve learned. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying masks fail to protect us. Of course, they would provide some protection since they are barrier to droplets released from someone. Will they slow the spread of a virus? Possibly. Many anti-maskers oppose it since it infringes on their freedoms, and it does. In fact, The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is closely watching the development of orders and regulations in some jurisdictions which mandate the use of masks in all indoor public places, saying “mandatory masking requirements represent an interference with personal autonomy” and may even violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms depending on the situation.

The truth is, making masking mandatory is not the same as making seat belts mandatory. Wearing seat belts have been proven to save lives. Wearing masks may or could save lives. That is not definitive proof! When mandating something without definitive proof causes bullying and divisiveness, it should not be done. Any policy that pits people against one another, especially when it is without definitive proof, and promotes bullying, is unethical and therefore shouldn’t be directed.