Much as I like the implications of this new study on masking, it should be read carefully. Masks, particularly forced masking, and particularly forced masking of children, became one of the strongest fault lines of the epidemic. The body of research on masking to prevent transmission of respiratory viruses in the community was largely non-existent, but by God, the public health experts were sure it would make a huge difference and our weak-kneed politicians went right along. During the epidemic there was only one meaningful study, a randomized clinical trial of mask-wearing in public in Denmark. That study found no apparent benefit to wearing a mask.
As I reviewed other research on the flow of air in and out of and around masks, particle size penetration of the mask, persistence of virions on the mask and other factors, it was apparent to me that masks were unlikely to in any manner substantially suppress the transmission of any virus, and in fact could not only provide a false sense of security but may in some cases facilitate transmission (which is why I refer to them as virus collection devices). And statistically, while a mask might in many individual encounters prevent the inhalation or exhalation of virus, over the number of encounters the typical person has in a day, they would in totality be useless.
Now we have a new study from Norway which purports to study the association between mask-wearing and CV-19 infection risk. As I said caution is warranted. The original study was a randomized trial of whether wearing glasses limited the risk of CV-19 infection. Based on a survey of participants on mask-wearing behavior, compared to people who reported never wearing a mask, those who wore them sometimes had a 33% higher risk, and those who reported wearing a mask always had a 40% higher risk, although sensitivity analyses reduced the effect. As the authors say, the result could be due to unexamined and unaccounted for behavioral and other factors, but the study is at least consistent with the notion that masks have no real effect on transmission in the community. (Norway Study)
It is apparent from the lack of randomized clinical trials of masking that the authorities and experts had no interest in actually learning what their effectiveness was or wasn’t. They feared the outcome, particularly after the Denmark study was released. But it would be easy to do both challenge and public use studies. Match a couple of groups on all relevant socio-demographic, health, and behavioral factors, put them in a house with a variety of viruses, including CV-19, with half constantly wearing masks and the other half never, and see if there is a difference in infection rates. And also check to see what is accumulating on the masks. Do another study in which similarly matched groups, one masked and one unmasked, spend the same amount of time in various public settings and again, check infection rates and what is on the masks. Not expensive, not hard to do, no more risky than what all of us are exposed to everyday. So why isn’t that research being done? I think we all know the answer to that.