A couple of comments relating to our coronavirus briefing here in the state, before a longer discussion about masks. In the briefing yesterday, a lot of concern about children and other people missing vaccinations, which is an ongoing problem. But zero acknowledgement that this avoidance of medical care is due to the constant and excessive fear-mongering by the Dictator and his minions at the Health Department. Sturgis came up again, that is the new tool of fear. The Commissioner flat-out lied about an upsurge in cases in South Dakota–I immediately went and looked at the data and there is no change, period. And she misled about case growth in Minnesota. Dr. Osterholm, about whom I say some kind words below, chimed in separately, claiming that Sturgis will destroy the entire country. Reminds me of those 50s motorcycle gang movies–watch out, they are coming to rape, murder and create mayhem in your town, only this time they are bringing the dread VIRUS!!
Now, to masks. I have demeaned and berated Dr. Osterholm, perhaps excessively so, perhaps not, for his overall response to the epidemic, which has been far too formulaic and lacked understanding of the nuances of this virus and epidemic. When someone has the status he has, they have a special obligation to be extremely well-informed and thoughtful. I will say something very positive about the good Doctor. He has pretty much stood his ground on masks, especially cloth masks. Under enormous pressure, he continues to strike a balance between endorsing their use and saying there is no evidence that they make any difference. Reading between the lines, he doesn’t really think they are effective at preventing transmission overall. If you haven’t read this commentary by Dr. Osterholm, I strongly encourage you to read it in its entirety. (Osterholm Commentary) While the effects of the pro-mask pressure are apparent, he continues to point to the lack of research showing efficacy, going back as far as the 1918 epidemic. I could have written the following passage from his commentary, in regard to excessive promotion of the benefits of masks:
“These concerns remain true today, particularly after CDC leadership made the unfortunate statement that the US epidemic could be driven to the ground if everyone wore face coverings for the next 4 to 6 weeks. If this were true, why do we need a vaccine to end this pandemic? Just “mask our way” to control. When put into this context, it’s obvious how the CDC statement is unrealistic and misleading. Why do places like Hong Kong, which has a requirement for the use of cloth face coverings in public at a risk of a $HK 5,000 fine, have their highest number of community-acquired COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic?”
And here are some summaries from a couple of the research pieces he cites. Two studies from a University group doing coronavirus evidence reviews find the same thing as every other review; there just isn’t solid evidence that masks play a significant role in limiting transmission. Here is one, on homemade masks specifically. (UNCOVER Review) The second one dealt with the effectiveness in general of face masks in limiting respiratory transmission in the community. (UNCOVER Review) That review also concluded that there was slight, at best, evidence of protective effect, even though laboratory studies would suggest that masks limit droplet spread. Thinking something should work is different from finding evidence that it actually works in the real world.
And it is fascinating to go back and read the work of one the pre-eminent scientists during the 1918 epidemic. (Kellogg Paper) Mask-making technology may or may not have improved since 100 years ago, but from the perspective of what really matters–do they seem to slow an epidemic in a particular geographic area; the answer then as now is no. Kellogg and his associates both conducted a series of experiments to determine airflow and penetration and reviewed results of epidemic courses in areas where masks were compulsory. Here is his conclusion: “Masks have not been proved efficient enough to warrant compulsory application for the checking of epidemics.” It appear to me that neither the evidence nor that conclusion has changed.
And here is yet another example of methodological mischief to achieve a desired result. There are very few actual trials of mask effectiveness. The same studies are reviewed over and over again by the evidence surveys. These guys, however, decided that they would conduct a meta-analysis of the same five trials, that is a combining of the results, of these trials but would modify the data so that they could ensure it showed masks were effective. (Medrxiv Paper) Here is how they got there. Instead of using the data as it was actually collected, let’s change it to reflect our assumptions about non-compliance behaviors, in other words, let’s ignore real-life human behavior in regard to when and how masks are worn. They literally changed the data as collected and adjusted it, and of course then the results look like masks have more of a protective effect than any of the original studies showed. If you don’t like the results of a study, do your own real study instead of fudging the data from the ones you don’t like. This is trash science conducted for the sole purpose of coming to a conclusion to justify a policy.
The most compelling evidence is that if you look at the regions with mask mandates, and more importantly, at areas with high degree of mask wearing, you see no effect, no correlation between mask use and cases or deaths. That is what matters–what happens in the real world.
I will repeat again, wear them if you want to, but don’t think they are actually protecting you or others to any significant degree.
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Thank you, thank you, thank you for being a reasonable voice.
What is happening in this country where we complacently accept shut downs and mask wearing as acceptable? “Oh, well, if our political leaders and health officials (the ones that get the main viewership) say this is the way its gonna be than I guess its okay!” We already have one radical-nut-job scientist who has said he thinks goggles should be worn – to prevent the virus or germs from getitng into the eyes!!!
Great article Kevin! Regarding Com. Malcom’s statement about SD’s case numbers surging. I almost fell off my chair when she said that. I replayed the video to confirm she actually said it. I don’t have numbers to back this statement, but I will guess 90% of the attendees at Sturgis are not from SD? So the level of cases in SD is irrelevant compared to the infection rate of the attendees’ states and countries? Maybe there will be increased infection rates in SD after the rally? My prediction is the same infection rate as the Northern MN Rodeo?
I would change your last sentence to read, “I will repeat again, wear them if you ARE BEING FORCED TO, but don’t think they are actually protecting you or others to any significant degree.”
I especially like the message that should have been given earlier on: “We don’t know how well cloth masks work, so distancing should come first, but masks are likely to work to some extent and not everyone can distance themselves.” Hong Kong didn’t receive this message, apparently.