The Nation was Devastated to Keep People from Inhaling the Spit of Others

The CDC, who, as we all remember, strongly discouraged the wearing of masks by the general public until they decided everyone should wear masks, is now saying coronavirus “does not spread easily from touching surfaces or objects.”

The geniuses at the CDC are now saying the virus spreads from person to person in the following four ways:

  1. “Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  2. “Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.”
  3. “These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”
  4. “COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.”

I think the CDC just needed to fill up a lot of screen space so they wouldn’t have to admit they don’t much about the spread of the virus at all. This list doesn’t describe four ways the virus spreads. Number 1 doesn’t describe how the virus spreads; it just describes the typical distance you can catch or transmit the virus. Numbers 2 and 3 are saying the same thing. And, number 4 says the CDC doesn’t know whether or not the virus can be spread by asymptomatic people, as evidenced by the use of the qualifier, “may.”

In basic terms, the CDC is saying COVID-19 spreads by inhaling the spit of other people.

This was the basis of shutting down virtually the entire country – to prevent people from breathing in the spit of others!

Because the CDC didn’t know what they were doing, the government condemned millions to joblessness, destroyed hundreds of thousands of small businesses, and depleted the retirement savings of almost everybody.

Rather than assess whether lockdowns were truly effective at limiting the spread of the virus, states prevented people from being treated for other medical conditions, increased poverty, created more stress, intensified mental illness – causing increased mortality from all these conditions.

Why?

They didn’t know why. Governments reacted to panicked people by implementing policies not supported by any empirical evidence. No one even bothered to assess the potential consequences of lockdown policies or determine if these policies caused more damage than they were designed to address.

Ultimately, it was all to prevent people from inhaling the spit of other people.

I could have figured out how to avoid that without condemning millions to economic, physical, and mental health devastation. It all boils down to the things people should do to avoid any illness.

  • Stay away from sick people and stay home if you’re sick.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Don’t stick your fingers in your mouth or nose.

We didn’t need to put everyone under house arrest to accomplish the above.

1968 Strong – 2020 Soft

Anatomy of Fear and Panic

The 1968-1969 Hong Kong Flu pandemic killed one to four million people worldwide, and over 100,000 in the United States.  Most of the American victims were over 65. 

Adjusted for population, this would have been the equivalent of almost 164,000 deaths in the United States today.

Despite the lethality of the Hong Kong Flu, it didn’t create the kind of panic found today over the coronavirus, nor were any economy-killing lockdowns instituted, or even proposed.  By and large, people took the Hong Kong Flu in stride – taking sensible precautions, but not making any substantial changes in routines.  Schools and stores remained open, sporting events were held, and people went to restaurants and movies.  A full presidential campaign was conducted in 1968, and the large Woodstock concert was held in 1969.  No one gave any thought to closing down society in order to “flatten the curve.”  People recognized a terrible virus was circulating, as viruses are wont to do from time to time.  They did not panic, they did not demand government “do something,” and they did not try to force the entire population to cloister at home.  The population of the late 1960’s recognized the reality of the virus, took sensible precautions if they felt vulnerable, but continued to go about their lives.

In terms of infections and fatalities, the Hong Kong Flu pandemic appears very similar to the COVID-19 pandemic.  In light of this, why did the public react very differently in 1968 than they do now?

First, we have to look at the constitution and characteristics of the people influencing society and making policy in the late 1960’s.  These individuals lived through the Great Depression and defeated the Axis in World War II.  They knew true deprivation firsthand, and learned to cope with the challenges and risks of life.  They were self-sufficient and reluctant to lean on anyone else for assistance of any kind.  Hard work, saving for a rainy day, personal accountability, and personal accountability were still considered moral virtues.  Communism and socialism were the enemy; they were not something to emulate and implement.

Secondly, there were real challenges and hardships in society in the late 1960’s.  The civil rights movement was still very active, and Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated early that year.  The Vietnam War was raging.  Anti-war protests were breaking out on college campuses.  Cities were devastated by urban riots.  Political assassinations became all-too common.  The Cold War was still raging with people living under the constant threat of global nuclear annihilation.  Worry about a virus took a backseat to the more pressing problems of the day.

Compare that to those in positions of authority today.  Today’s leaders and influencers were raised in the most prosperous time in American history.  By and large, our nation has been at peace, with a small number of volunteer professional soldiers addressing any violent outbreaks.  Employment is plentiful, and technology not even conceivable a generation ago is available to virtually everyone, including those below the poverty line.  There are very few people alive today who have weathered the adversity common to the Greatest Generation.  Self-sufficiency and individual responsibility are increasingly considered quaint traits – those raised by helicopter parents now expect the state to provide them similar security.  Much of society has demanded government become in loco parentis – providing protection from bad individual decisions and socializing personal responsibility, accountability, and initiative.  The collective has become paramount over the individual.

Whereas the Greatest Generation developed character though hardship and adversity, much of today’s population seek “safe spaces” from “triggering” comments and events.  A 24/7 media trades in sensationalism, emotionalism, and fear, moving seamlessly from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis.  Much of the population no longer wishes to confront challenges head-on – they want and expect someone else to do it for them.  The skills of critical thinking and balancing options with risks have degenerated into blind fealty to comforting authoritarianism.  Planning for the future and making wise choices is no longer important because someone in the government will always bail them out.  Rather than be hardened by adversity, the current crop of leaders has grown soft from prosperity. 

Let’s look again at the biggest issues and concerns of 1968 – 1969.  They included civil rights and equality of all races, the draft and the Vietnam War, the raging Cold War, riots which forever altered communities, violent protests, demonstrations, and political assassinations.  Each and all of these real events were consuming the thoughts of the population.

Contrast that with some of today’s biggest issues.  Worry about which restrooms transgendered individuals should use and debates over whether taxpayers should pay the student loans of individuals having difficulty obtaining gainful employment from their Gender Studies degrees. 

COVID-19, like the Hong Kong Flu before it, can have devastating consequences, including a large number of deaths.  Yet we did not destroy our economy during the Hong Kong Flu pandemic and did not subject millions to joblessness and poverty because of a virus.  We did not prevent individuals with other health issues from accessing their doctors.  We did not force our population into a form of house arrest in order to placate the panic and fear of some. 

In 1968 – 1969, we still thought and we still considered things from the perspective of reason.  In 2020, far too many of us relinquish our thinking to others and operate solely from the perspective of raw hysteria and emotion.

Why Must we Surrender our Rights during times of Perceived Crises?

Once again, our nation surrendered its liberties – our natural rights endowed upon us by our Creator – because of fear and panic.  We did not sacrifice our rights to some “greater cause,” for there is no cause greater than the natural state of freedom that makes us all human.  Instead, we compliantly surrendered that which makes us human, that which makes us American, to scare-mongering “experts” who conned us into believing their priorities, preferences, and judgements were somehow superior to everyone else’s.  We willingly relinquished our own powers of critical thinking and allowed our emotions, particularly our fears, to limit our own judgements.  We allowed a small cabal of so-called experts and politicians to strip us of our right to free will and choice, in exchange for being serfs to their own choices.

The United States of America was founded upon the principle that all humans were granted natural rights by our Creator.  These rights are not abstractions that a benevolent or despotic government can freely grant or deny.  They are an extension of the free will provided to us by our Lord – a recognition that such free will, choice, and liberty is the natural state of every human.  Legitimate governments strive, at all times, to preserve and protect individual liberty.  Despotic governments seek to control humanity by infringing upon these natural rights.

Anatomy of Despotism

During the coronavirus pandemic, governmental officials, usually governors and members of the federal and state executive branches, abandoned any pretext of protecting individual rights and, instead, chose to rule by dictate and decree.  Most of the nation’s governors chose to put their own citizens under various forms of house arrest, through “stay at home” or “lockdown” orders.  They arbitrarily closed businesses they deemed “nonessential” with little thought given to the real impact this would have on the business owners, their employees, their suppliers, and the communities they serve.  When confronted with a perceived crisis, these supposed leaders reflexively resorted to the most intrusive and excessively coercive mechanisms of governmental power, rather than trusting their citizens to independently make the choices right for them.

This was partially caused by mass hysteria driven by the sensationalist and alarmist pronouncements of the media and by opportunistic “experts” seeking personal publicity or the raw exercise of power.  The so-called “experts” were granted levels of influence and power far beyond their areas of expertise, and the public eagerly and willingly acquiesced to even the most draconian recommendations of these individuals.  It is a sad reality of human nature that when given an opportunity to exercise power over others, most people will gladly wield that power to their own ends.  Far too often, the public meekly complies.

Whether you choose to call the technique “gaslighting”, or as Hitler termed it, “the Big Lie,” when something is repeated often enough and with enough conviction, the public will eventually believe, and then, embrace the lie.  The panic and raw emotional reactions to the perceived threat of COVID-19 was a classic example of this phenomenon.

The Path to Dictatorship

Initially, most Americans, including most politicians, believed COVID-19 would not cause much trouble, and even branded those who disagreed as racists against the Chinese.  It was not uncommon to see mayors and other political figures tour Chinatowns in their cities and encourage people to visit their restaurants and businesses.

That all changed in late February and early March of 2020.  The news media seized upon the worst aspects of the outbreak in Europe, particularly in Italy and quickly sensationalized their coverage in a desperate search for ratings and readers.  Then, on March 16, Imperial College in Britain published a model which predicted that half a million people in Britain would die from COVID-19, and two million from the United States.  Even though the authors of the Imperial College model quickly walked back their predictions, the press, and swiftly afterwards, the public and the politicians, seized upon these alarmist predictions and repeated them like a mantra.

Driven by public demand to “do something!,” California’s governor issued the first “stay at home” order on March 19, 2020.  All but seven states quickly followed.  These “stay at home” orders closed businesses deemed nonessential by the state governors, prohibited elective surgeries in hospitals, limited gatherings of more than a handful of people, and often closed public parks, beaches, and other outdoor recreation venues.  Some restrictions, such as those imposed by Michigan Governor Whitmer, were more arbitrary and draconian than others, including forbidding lawn service companies from cutting lawns, preventing residents from purchasing plants and seeds from shops already open, and banning motorboats on waterways, but permitting non-motorized watercraft.  Clearly, all these restrictions violated the rights to free exercise of religion, the right of the people to peaceably assemble, the right to petition the government for redress of grievances, the right to not being denied liberty or property without due process of law, the right to not have excess fines imposed, and a host of other Constitutionally-enumerated rights.

Few governors gave thought to the health and economic consequences of their decisions, and often imposed restrictions in spite of the lack of empirical evidence supporting them.  The initial justification was that the restrictions were necessary to “flatten the curve” and later, to limit new cases of coronavirus. When it became obvious COVID-19 was still spreading in spite of stay at home orders, governors opted for new requirements, like mandating masks in public, even though the value of the public wearing homemade masks is questionable.  Instead of admitting their policies were little more than ineffective political theater and abandoning their overreaching dictates, pot-committed governors often doubled down by extending existing restrictions and even imposing new ones.

The Myth of “Killing Grandma”

Those who questioned and protested the governmental dictates were attacked as being selfish, anti-science, and even racist.  Those who protested the infringement of their liberties were even accused of wanting to “kill grandma.”

In many states, these lockdowns, which often weren’t even voted upon by state legislatures, still exist, despite statistical evidence stay at home orders have no impact on coronavirus infection or fatality rates.  In fact, nationwide, over 1/3 of all coronavirus cases and fatalities occur in long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living communities.  The fatality rate predictably rises by age, with those under 65 unlikely to perish from the disease unless other comorbidity factors already exist.  Transmission of COVID-19 is very rare during fleeting contacts, such as passing an infected person in a store.  Even governmental officials are implicitly recognizing this, by limiting contact tracing to persons with close and constant contact with infected persons.

There is no disputing COVID-19 is more contagious and more serious than typical strains of influenza.  Worldwide, the fatality rate appears to be about 1.3% for those with symptomatic cases of coronavirus.  The vast majority of people who contract coronavirus recover, including a majority of the most vulnerable patients (those over the age of 85).  In addition, it is estimated that 25% to 50% of all coronavirus cases are asymptomatic. Although the risk of coronavirus should not be understated, it need not be exaggerated either.  Although the raw numbers of cases and deaths may appear alarming, the chance of contracting COVID-19 and having a bad final outcome is still statistically minimal.

Humans are naturally social animals.  They create family units, extended clans, communities, and entire civilizations though voluntary interactions.  These voluntary interactions and socialization are essential to the success of the species.  The United States has developed the most advanced nation in the world through its principles, which are eloquently documented in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  The inevitable advancement of our nation was never hindered by the temporary challenges of disease, war, financial depressions, or any other perceived crisis.  Indeed, it is the values of individual liberty that allowed us to weather these challenges.  We are not weakened by our rights and our liberties; we are weakened when we surrender our rights and our liberties.

There are risks throughout life, and each person has the natural right to determine how best to navigate through these risks.  Some may choose to avoid most risks by sequestering themselves in safe environments and avoiding any activities that may potentially be dangerous.  Others may choose to embrace risks, feeling they experience life best while risking it.  Most people fall somewhere in the middle, prudently avoiding likely risks, attempting to mitigate serious, but unlikely outcomes, and living normal lives.  Everyone has the right to determine how they each, individually, wish to balance life’s risks with actually living their lives.

By instituting policies, particularly one-size-fits-all policies, in an attempt to slow the progressions of coronavirus, those holding governmental power have not only implemented ineffective “solutions” that have likely generated more problems than they solved, they have also denied people the natural right to determine their own fates.  The individuals possessing the coercive power of government have determined they alone, not the people themselves, possess the unerring wisdom to dictate the preferences, priorities, and risks each individual may hold.  They have failed to consider that every policy decision has trade-offs, which are often negative.  While responding to the unbridled panic of the public by infringing upon individual liberties, these pandering politicians have failed to address the social and health costs of deferred medical care, the loss of jobs and income, the loss of life savings and businesses that took a lifetime to build, and the ensuing stress, anxiety, and depression tied to these factors.  Most importantly, these smug “leaders” have denied the nation’s citizens their inherent rights to choose their own actions, their own tolerance for risk, and their own paths in life.

Individuals should not be subjected to the whims and preferences of governmental officials and “experts,” especially when those whims directly infringe upon the liberties of the citizens.  Each person has a right to determine the actions he or she wishes to take as it pertains to COVID-19.  A younger adult, in good health who has invested her life savings in a small business may legitimately arrive at the conclusion that the risk of contracting coronavirus, and the risk of permanent adverse impacts, is much less than the risk of losing her business and life savings.  A senior citizen with high blood pressure and diabetes may decide sheltering at home is the safer alternative.  When people decide they have more important priorities than hiding from a virus, particularly if the virus is unlikely to cause them significant harm, no one has the right to prevent them from engaging in the activities of their choice.  Likewise, a person who may be at high risk of adverse outcomes is free to choose to shelter at home until the threat abates. 

Nobody will be “killing grandma.”  If grandma feels she is at risk for adverse outcomes, she is welcome to shelter in place until the viral threat subsides.  Grandma, however, does not have the right to demand everyone else put their lives on hold.

We’re Not “All in This Together”

It is always troubling when someone pretentiously announces “we’re all in this together,” and “everyone must make a sacrifice for the common good.”  There is no common good; there are only tradeoffs inherent in any policy that may benefit some and disadvantage others.  Those demanding “sacrifice” are usually only demanding others sacrifice their liberties to those most fearful in society.  They, themselves, are the last to truly sacrifice anything.  Those who most loudly demand government solutions to somehow manage a natural phenomenon are viewing government as in parentis loco.  In other words, they are plaintively begging their mommies to tell them everything will turn out all right.

Things won’t turn out all right.  COVID-19 is a very contagious disease with a higher-than-average fatality rate.  Although the odds of any one person dying is statistically remote, particularly those in their younger years, millions of people will contract the virus and hundreds of thousands or more will die from it.  Unless an effective vaccine is developed in record time, or the virus unexpectedly mutates into a less potent form, the virus will likely be with us for several years to come.  We can hunker down, destroy our society and economy in the hope the virus will pass us by, or we can live our lives, with each of us taking the precautions we each feel are necessary to avoid or mitigate the impact of the virus.  This is not a decision that should be dictated from above.  It’s a decision that rightfully belongs to each and every individual.

An old adage says, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” 

Similarly, when politicians are asked to address a problem, their only tool is the blatant exercise of coercive governmental power, usually resulting in the infringement of people’s rights.  Why do we, as a citizenry, compliantly accept the dictates of those wielding political power, especially when those dictates involve an unconstitutional infringement of individual rights?   Why shouldn’t we demand that our representatives figure out ways to address problems (if they really should be involved in the first place) that don’t involve the diminution of our natural and constitutional rights? Why should every response to perceived crises first involve dictatorship and infringement of our liberties?

The media and politicians thrive on creating, exaggerating, and fueling perceived crises.  Addressing crises gives them purpose, drives reader and viewership, and wins them votes.  Unfortunately, crises are also used to instill emotional reactions in the populace, usually fear.  When the population is driven by emotions, particularly panic and fear, they are often willing to surrender their individual rights and sovereignty to whomever promises them security, whether that security really exists or not.  As citizens, we must use reason, rather than emotion, to address the validity and severity of alleged crises, and demand that any governmental actions not involve dictatorship or the deprivation of liberties.

The Romans lost their republic when they voluntarily ceded their rights and self-representation to magistrates granted dictatorial powers to respond to crises or “emergencies.”  Over time, these crises and emergencies grew so frequent that Rome was constantly ruled by dictators, rather than their own Senators.  It did not take long for the Roman Republic to be replaced by the autocratic Roman Empire.

Every time Americans were required to surrender their liberties in response to some perceived crisis, it was later concluded that such actions were unnecessary and an example of governmental overreach or abuse of power.  In spite of this historical reality, we are constantly told it is selfish to resist the dictates of the state, for those dictates are for our own good.  Instead of compliantly submitting to regular governmental dictates to surrender our rights, we should be demanding government respect and protect our rights, and seek out solutions to any emergencies that don’t infringe upon individual choice or liberty.

Do Masks Really Help Reduce Transmission of COVID-19?

We are at War with Eurasia, We have always been at War with Eastasia

In his novel, 1984, George Orwell coined a new term, “doublethink.”  Doublethink was a word that described the ability and willingness of an individual to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time, and fully believe both of them.  The federal government’s flip-flop on the ability of face masks to stem the transmission of coronavirus seems to be another example of doublethink.  Before April 4, 2020, the federal government suggested the general public not wear face masks, except in very specific circumstances.  Many communities followed the CDC’s lead and suggested the public avoid wearing face masks in public.

Yet, suddenly, the CDC changed its guidance in early April.  All of the sudden, they encouraged the general public to wear face masks in public.  Communities, who a day or two earlier were issuing recommendations against face masks, suddenly changed direction with little explanation, and recommended the public wear face masks.  Some jurisdictions even started issuing fines for people who failed to wear masks in public areas.

Why were the recommendations about masks changed so abruptly, and why were local communities so willing to unquestionably follow the new guidance when they were religiously following other guidance just a day or two earlier?

The Flip Flop

About April 4, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) abruptly changed their position on the public wearing masks to prevent coronavirus.  Before this date, the CDC agreed with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidance that masks should be reserved for healthcare workers, and masks for the rest of the population should be limited to people caring for persons with COVID-19.

The recommendations against the general public wearing masks (which is still WHO’s position) were based upon a need for public manipulation as well as valid concerns about masks.  Due to the coronavirus pandemic, medical-grade respirator masks and surgical masks were in short supply, and the United States government wanted the production of these masks directed solely to healthcare workers.  Because of this desire, the government strongly suggested that masks were not needed by most of the general public.  The federal and state governments wanted the sale of all medical-grade masks limited to healthcare professionals.

That is not to say there weren’t valid, or at least plausible, explanations for discouraging the public from wearing masks.  The ability of masks to protect the wearer or others from the virus is greatly reduced if masks are not properly fitted.  Air gaps will let bioaerosols escape or enter.  The outside surface of masks tend to collect viral particles, so care must be taken to avoid touching the outer surfaces of masks and to practice good hand hygiene.  In fact, WHO points out, “masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.”    

Considering most lay persons would not fit their masks properly, studies show the outer surface of a mask collects viral particles, and most people would not handle masks properly, the discouragement of masks appeared to make sense.  On top of this, the ability of homemade masks to filter out bioaerosols was not widely studied.

Despite the recommendations of the United States Surgeon General and the CDC, many people started ignoring the guidelines, and chose to wear masks out in public anyway.

It would not be implausible to believe the federal government changed direction on masks due to public pressure, rather than medical consensus.  Ostensibly, the government “discovered” the coronavirus can be transmitted by asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carriers.  On the April 5, 2020 broadcast of Meet the Press, Surgeon General Jerome Adams said, “Here’s what’s changed.  We now know that about 25%, in some studies even more, of COVID-19 is transmitted when you are asymptomatic or presymptomatic.

However, this claim doesn’t fully explain the reason for the sudden shift in guidance.  It was suspected since January, and widely accepted by early March, that a significant quantity of coronavirus infections was asymptomatic.  If asymptomatic transmission was such a true concern, wouldn’t the CDC have changed its guidance at least a month earlier than April 4. 2020?  If wearing masks truly prevented asymptomatic carriers from transmitting COVID-19, didn’t this delay potentially contribute to increased infections?

We can only speculate on the reasoning for the CDC’s change in policy.  It is very possible they were confident that medical-grade masks were finally making their way to healthcare workers in early April, so there was no longer a concern of the public trying to hoard them.  It is also well within the realm of possibility the CDC still doesn’t see a true need for the general public to wear masks, but they changed direction due to political pressure.  It is rapidly becoming more and more obvious that governmental regulations are being driven by the public’s demand that the government “do something,” even if these policies have no actual impact on the progression of COVID-19.  The change in guidance regarding masks may have simply been the desire to create more political theater to placate a fearful and panicked population.

In light of the new guidance from the CDC, and in spite of WHO’s contention the general public generally does not need masks, many municipalities have mandated the wearing of masks for anyone out in public.  Some are even levying fines against those who defy the edict.

How Effective are Masks Really?

In light of the rapid about-face on the guidance about wearing masks, it is fair to ask whether they really make much of a difference in preventing the spread of coronavirus or in protecting the wearer from catching the infection.

There is fairly widespread consensus that N95, P95, and R95 respirators, when properly fitted, prevent 95% + of viral bioaerosols from entering the mask or leaving the mask.  However, x95-class respirators are not currently being sold to the general public.  Some people may have previously purchased respirators meeting this standard and still have them at their homes.  Provided an x95 mask is fitted without air gaps, not used beyond its recommended lifespan (usually four hours for disposable masks), and handled properly, these masks provide substantial, but not perfect, protection from catching or transmitting coronavirus.

Pleated surgical masks are still being directed to health-care facilities, although some may occasionally be available for purchase by the general public.  Studies don’t entirely agree on how effective surgical masks are at filtering the bioaerosols containing the COVID-19 virus.  A South Korean study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggested that surgical and cloth masks provide no protection against coronavirus bioaerosols. However, another study, published in Nature Medicine, found that surgical masks were an effective method of blocking viral bioaerosols.  A third study, in BMJ Open, suggested that surgical masks provide about 56% protection from bioaerosol infiltration or transmission.

There is not universal consensus on the effectiveness of non-woven surgical masks in providing protection from receiving or transmitting coronavirus bioaerosols.  Surgical masks are certainly less effective than x95 respirators.  But they do appear to provide some protection from COVID-19 penetration, provided they are worn over the nose and mouth with no air gaps.  As is the case with other masks, surgical masks should be carefully handled after use and touching the surfaces, especially the outer surface, should be avoided.  The user should always wash his or her hands immediately after removing any mask.

Since x95 respirators and nonwoven surgical masks are hard to come by, most of the public is relying upon home-made masks or bandanas.  What impact do these devices have?

Depending upon the build and demeanor of the wearer, a bandana can make him look sort of like a cowboy.  A cotton mask can make one appear to be a second-rate bank robber. Generally, these homemade contraptions offer very limited protection from dispersing or receiving coronavirus bioaerosols.  The BMJ Open study claims 97% or bioaerosols can penetrate cloth masks.  In fact, the study’s authors conclude, “Moisture retention, reuse of cloth masks and poor filtration may result in increased risk of infection.”  In essence, cloth masks may increase, rather than decrease, the risk of coronavirus infection.

A study in the American Chemical Society’s journal, ACS Nano, provided more positive data for the effectiveness of homemade cloth masks.  This study examined different fabrics, with different thread counts, and the impact of single-layer masks versus multi-layer.  The study still did not provide good news about the filtration ability of typical single-ply cotton masks.  The study found 80 threads-per-inch single-ply cotton masks filtered about 9% of airborne particles of the size most typical of coronavirus.  Some other materials and thicknesses fared much better, with cotton/chiffon, cotton/silk, and cotton/flannel blends performing about as well as x95 respirators, provided the masks were fitted properly with no air gaps.  If these masks did have air gaps, which is rather typical in home-made masks, the filtering efficiency dropped to below 40%.

It’s probably fair to surmise that home-made masks with multiple layers of fabric (particularly non-woven fabric) and higher thread counts offer more protection from viral infiltration than typical, single-ply cotton masks.  However, when fabric weaves are tighter and multiple layers are used, it may be far more difficult actually breathing through one of these masks.  Wearers may be inclined to lift the mask occasionally to breathe, which negates any benefits of wearing a mask.

Are Masks Desirable?

There has been considerable debate as to whether face masks are necessary, or even desirable, for non-medical personnel.  First, we have to consider the real threat of one person infecting another through aerosol transmission of COVID-19.  The previously referenced study published in Nature Medicine suggests that people infected with viruses like coronavirus seldom shed detectable amounts of the virus in respiratory droplets or aerosols, and those who do shed the virus through bioaerosols tend to have very low viral loads.  The authors of the study believe this finding implies, in order to be infected by respiratory aerosols or droplets, a person must be in prolonged contact with an infected individual.  Fleeting contacts would not usually be sufficient to transmit COVID-19 through bioaerosols.

This is admittedly only a single study.  Not a lot is yet known about the transmission of the coronavirus, and whether it is primarily transmitted through the air or by surface contact. 

We must also address the limitations of the studies referenced above.  Most of the studies measured the transmission of potential viral loads from areas fairly close to the mask (usually one meter or less).  The studies did not measure the viral load of respiratory droplets or aerosols that travel longer distances, such as from a cough or sneeze.  No studies have evaluated how effectively different types of masks limit the distance droplets or aerosols can be projected.  If, in spite of the study published in Nature Medicine, casual encounters with aerosols or droplets can cause infection, a mask’s ability to suppress the travel distance of viral particles would be desirable.

In general, it is fair to say x95 respirators and surgical masks will likely provide some protection from catching or transmitting coronavirus, provided the masks are fitted properly, remain dry, are handled carefully when being removed, and are not worn longer than the manufacturer’s recommendation.

There is not as much certainty of the value of home-made masks.  The most common materials found in home-made masks and facial coverings only filter miniscule proportions of droplets and aerosols.  Common single-ply cotton masks, when properly worn, filter out 9% or less of bioaerosols.  These masks may or may not reduce the distance such bioaerosols travel from a cough or sneeze, but it appears unlikely that makes any difference in actual infection potential.

There is a psychological value in wearing home-made masks.  One may feel virtuous that he or she is protecting others from potential exposure to viral particles (although such a belief is likely incorrect).  A mask can also be perceived as equivalent to suit of armor – protecting the wearer in public.  Unfortunately, this belief can be dangerous if it gives the wearer a false sense of security that encourages one to drop his or her guard.  If a person believes a mask offers protection to oneself or others, the wearer may be less inclined to engage in social distancing or frequent hand-washing, both of which are considered more effective at limiting the transmission and catching of the virus than wearing a mask.

Home-made masks may actually be more dangerous than not wearing a mask at all.  It has already been established that most commonly used home-made masks have a very limited ability to filter viral particles.  If the concerns of the authors of the BMJ Open study are correct, improper handling of masks (remember, viral particles often collect on the outside surface of masks), moisture retention, and improper fitting (the presence of air gaps or a failure to cover the mouth and nose) can increase, rather than decrease the risk of infection or transmission of disease to another.

These conclusions appear to be counter-intuitive and contradict common sense.  One may argue that even a little bit of protection from viral infiltration is desirable.  It would be, provided a mask is always carefully handled, washed frequently or correctly disposed-of after use, fitted and worn properly, and if the wearer complied with all other social distancing and personal hygiene guidelines.  In the real world, however, people are not likely to perfectly follow all of the guidelines.  Researchers have recommended that health-care workers wear home-made masks only as a “last-resort.”  The use of the same masks by untrained individuals appear to provide very little benefit in filtering bioaerosols, and may actually increase, rather than decrease the rate of infection.

The abrupt about-face of the CDC in changing their policy on public use of face-masks looked suspiciously like it was caused by political pressure, rather than comprehensive medical research.  In spite of the most recent direction from the CDC, the position of WHO on the public use of face masks seems more in sync with current medical research.