A study revives debate on masks: Twitter explodes, public is ‘befuddled;’ prevention may depend on how they’re worn

Haven’t the questions about masking been asked and answered? “Or at least that we had all agreed to disagree, but no such luck,” writes Felice J. Freyer of The Boston Globe. “The debate over whether masks limit Covid-19 transmission recently reignited after a new review of the research came out, drawing out skeptics and defenders, and — as so often happens — leaving the ordinary citizen befuddled.”

How did this get started
 — again? “A British outfit known as the Cochrane Library put out a new report on masking. When the Cochrane Review, which is highly respected in medical circles, tackled the mask question, it found that “wearing a mask may make little to no difference in how many people caught a flu‐like illness/Covid‐like illness,” Freyer writes. “But the review encompassed primarily studies conducted before the pandemic, which examined the spread of influenza. The flu is far less contagious than Covid-19, which could lead to underestimating the effects of masks. The review also mixed studies of health-care workers with those involving the general public, and included studies that couldn’t answer the question of whether people actually wore their masks correctly.”

Who’s causing the fuss? “Twitter erupted with criticisms. Then one of the Cochrane Review authors was quoted in a Substack newsletter article saying of masks, “There is just no evidence that they make any difference. Full stop.” . . . The Substack interview prompted New York Times columnist Bret Stephens to scold all those who favored mask mandates, saying they owed the world an apology. That unleashed another round of social media outrage. . . . But as others have pointed out, there’s no evidence that masks don’t make a difference. The big problem is that there isn’t enough evidence, period.”

Wait a minute; what do masks prevent? “We have good evidence from laboratory studies [that] if you’re wearing a mask correctly and you’re in the presence of the virus, the mask will protect you,” Jennifer Nuzzo, professor of epidemiology at Brown University School of Public Health, told Freyer. Commenting on the Cochrane Review, Freyer added, “The appropriate conclusion is, we don’t have great evidence showing that masks change infection rates in populations. But we don’t know why that is. It’s probably not to do with masks themselves, but how they’re worn.”

What did Dr. Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, say about the Cochrane study? “It’s a meta-analysis of a very large number of studies, many of which had nothing to do with Covid, and many of which did studies with masks that were not regularly worn every day and properly,” Fauci told Freyer. “There were only two studies in that entire meta-analysis that were exclusively looking at masks with Covid.”

Could I get a straight answer? “The basic advice hasn’t changed. Wear a mask in situations where you think you’re at risk of infection, such as a crowded indoor setting, especially during a time when Covid transmission is high,” Freyer reports. “The level of that risk is determined by the level of transmission in your community, your own vulnerability to severe illness, the vulnerability of people you expect to come in contact with, and your personal tolerance for risk.”

Final thoughts? Fauci told Freyer, “Everyone is different. Everyone’s risk for a complication is different. So there’s no set rule.”

Previous Article
Next Article