by Steve Golden —
Two new states—Oregon and my home state of Kansas—joined the new COVID-19 restriction trend by mandating that people wear masks in public. There’s been no small amount of controversy over coronavirus-related restrictions, and masks are no exception. Questions about whether they really work, what kinds are more effective, and whether they should be reserved for healthcare workers have plagued the debate. Despite what the media and people on both sides of this issue might say, there are not clear answers.
It’s worth noting the reactions of people to the Kansas governor’s announcement of the statewide mask mandate. Immediately, my social media feeds were filled with self-righteous proclamations that those who opposed the mandate needed to “talk to Jesus” and “just wear the damn mask.” I was accused by a fellow nurse of only caring about my own life and no one else’s, while fellow Christians took to Facebook to chastise us for not “preferring the weaker brother” by getting in line and supporting the mandate. One Christian argued that the more conservatives opposed government overreach, the worse the mandates would become—the implication being that we need to stop opposing them. And, of course, appeals to authority (a well-known logical fallacy) abound: we need to “trust the experts” and stop questioning the research. When I shared research from scientists that did not fit the mask-wearing, lockdown narrative, I was told that the true experts reside at the CDC and NIH. Apparently, we should only trust the experts appointed by the government, because those experts never get it wrong.
Do Masks Work? Mixed Messages and Evidence
Research is a funny thing, as studies can be found for and against issues, and much depends on their quality and design. Research clouded by politics, however, can be dangerous to one’s freedom and one’s health. Throughout March and April, experts told us not to wear masks. Media outlets published stories asking people to simply follow hand washing guidelines, with one Kansas county health official stating that “masks can give a false sense of security,” and that those who choose not to wear one “should not feel bad.” A Canadian news outlet explained “why masks don’t work” in detail, including an important point: any helpfulness a mask has is gone once it’s saturated. In healthcare, we know the masks we’re being forced to wear all day aren’t rated for that length of use, and in March and April it was acceptable to criticize the decision to make us wear them anyway. That’s no longer the case.
Our own Surgeon General stated early on, “What the World Health Organization [WHO] and the CDC [The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] have reaffirmed in the last few days is that they do not recommend the general public wear masks.” Not long after, the CDC did an about face as political pressure mounted and started recommending masks. Now state governments are mandating them.
The current recommendations/mandates are in spite of evidence that most masks, except for N95 respirators, are almost completely ineffective in preventing COVID-19 transmission. A local Kansas news outlet reported this week that bandanas are incredibly poor at stopping droplets, consistent with research from other experts. The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota observed that “sweeping mask recommendations—as many have proposed—will not reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission, as evidenced by the widespread practice of wearing such masks in Hubei province, China, before and during its mass COVID-19 transmission experience earlier this year.” They concluded in their research on every mask option, including cloth masks, that
Cloth masks are ineffective as source control and PPE . . . Masks may confuse that message and give people a false sense of security. If masks had been the solution in Asia, shouldn’t they have stopped the pandemic before it spread elsewhere?
These researchers are experts, too, so why isn’t their research being heard?
Telling the Difference Between Politics and Science
The COVID-19 pandemic has become highly politicized, so that people who speak out against the current narrative, even medical professionals, are shouted down in the same way those who don’t fall in line with racial equality issues are. Take, for example, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) announcement that asymptomatic spread was “very rare.” If true, then the worldwide economic shutdowns and draconian restrictions would be for nothing, because the focus should have been on those who are symptomatic—just like any other illness. The researcher who made that statement was blackballed and criticized, and the WHO clarified to say they “don’t actually have that answer yet.” Facebook flagged my link about it as not factual.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) recently called out Dr. Fauci and others at government health organizations for scrubbing from the Internet any data that doesn’t fit the narrative, in order to continue these restrictions, mandates, and shutdowns. Sen. Paul points out that data from around the world shows children, who are often asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms, don’t pass the virus and that no surges occurred when schools opened in other countries—and yet, American schools remain closed and COVID-19 case counts do not distinguish between children and adults when it comes to restrictions and risk of spread.
The media has played a devious role in perpetuating panic as well. For instance, we hear regularly about conservative states’ rising case counts—Texas being a prime example this week—and Republican governors are blamed for reopening the states too early. But as one author pointed out, the Texas rise in COVID-19 cases has increased at the same magnitude as California’s, where Gov. Newsom has imposed incredibly strict controls—including mandatory masks in public—and even announced a new round of shutdowns this week.
The Wall Street Journal reported more evidence that government lockdowns are not as helpful as we thought, writing that “per-capita Covid fatalities in states that stayed open were on average about 75% lower than those that locked down.” Why? Because over 40% of COVID-19 deaths have come from nursing homes, not the general public. (And keep in mind, the total fatality rate has been inflated by at least 25%.)
We’ve Lost Sight of the Goal
When the pandemic began, the campaign was “14 days to flatten the curve” and the call was to “slow the spread” so our hospital systems weren’t overwhelmed. Health officials generally accepted that COVID-19 would become endemic in our society, and that we just had to keep our healthcare system working. But it was a bait-and-switch—“slow the spread” quickly became “stop completely,” leading to nationwide stay-at-home orders.
One author pointed out that government lockdowns led to “oversuppression,” so that the moment these restrictions are lifted at all, cases rise. Health officials and the media use the rising case count as justification for more restrictions. Kansas, for instance, reached an all-time low this week for COVID-19 fatalities (and we didn’t have many to begin with), with numerous counties not seeing any new cases or any cases at all—and Gov. Kelly celebrated that with an overreaching mask mandate for the entire state.
On the one hand, we’re told that wearing a mask is a small thing. So is social distancing, limited travel, temporarily shutting down one’s business and church, giving out your personal information each time you enter a business, agreeing to contact tracing on your phone, having to report your movements to your employer, and on and on. But taken as a whole, COVID-19 restrictions—“small things” done in the name of protecting our health—have led to our movements being tracked and limited, loss of privacy related to places we frequent, loss of the freedom of association, fracturing of relationships and groups, loss of livelihoods, and loss of freedom to choose what we place on our faces. The Church has been just as guilty as the public at large of ushering in this government intrusion, and it’s unlikely we will ever get these lost freedoms back. (There have been numerous announcements this week of a potential coming pandemic from pigs in China, and the precedents for how to handle it have been set.)
The question remains: Is the goal to slow the spread and allow herd immunity to occur, or is it to “stop” COVID-19? Without a vaccine, stopping COVID-19 will mean permanent mask mandates and spending our lives in isolation. One author at the Federalist notes,
New Zealand started talking of flattening the curve, but quickly enacted aggressive lockdowns and managed to stop the virus. Now, however, they are in a situation where they can open up internally, but because of their lack of immunity, the entire country must remain isolated from the rest of the world.
And keep in mind, vaccines aren’t a panacea. The flu is notoriously difficult to vaccinate against, and the common cold—caused by numerous strains of coronavirus—has no vaccine.
Americans need to decide when enough is enough, and when to stop complying with these orders. The same experts that tell us we’re risking the lives of our grandparents by going to church or the store without a mask on told thousands of protestors last month that “health is about more than simply remaining free of coronavirus infection.” New York authorized protests to go forward but tried to keep churches at 25% capacity (and thankfully, the courts called out the NY government for its hypocrisy). A mask mandate might seem innocuous, but when looked at in light of all the other government overreach we’ve witnessed the last 4 months, it’s worth opposing to keep as much liberty as possible in the hands of individual Americans.
†Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash