The COVID News You Aren’t Supposed to See, Part 2: Mask Mandates and Lockdowns

by Steve Golden —

Just a few short months ago, mask mandates had only just cropped up in more left-leaning states. It was unthinkable that a government would try to regulate gatherings in our own homes. Small business owners expected to be up and running at full force for the coming holiday season. Yet here we are, entering the fourth quarter of COVID with less freedom than ever.

With each new restriction, panic and fear overtake more people, including those who knew better just a month or two ago. My goal with this series is to provide readers with information about the COVID-19 pandemic that’s not being widely reported. But don’t take my word for it—follow the links and do your own research—and then share this with others who want a different perspective. (Check out Part 1 of this series here.)

How Are Those Mask Mandates Working Out?

  • As it turns out, a decade of research showing masks make very little difference in viral transmission was right all along. (I covered much of this prior data at this link.)
  • CDC director Robert Redfield claimed in July that “If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I think in four, six, eight weeks we could bring this epidemic under control.”
  • Polling throughout the pandemic has shown that Americans are wearing masks in growing numbers.
    • Pew Research showed 65% of Americans wore masks in June, but by August that number was up to 85%.
    • A HealthDay/Harris Poll in October showed that 93% of Americans are wearing masks, with 72% saying they “always” do.
    • Carnegie Mellon University offers an interactive map with nationwide mask compliance levels at this link.
  • Despite the incredibly high level of compliance with masking across the US, COVID-19 transmission rates have never been higher. It would appear Redfield was mistaken in his hypothesis.
  • The CDC resorted to statistical deception in a new campaign that uses Kansas as a test case for why masks work. Kansas allows each county to decide whether it will put a mask mandate in place, and only some of the counties did.
    • The CDC opted to use the 7-day rolling average of COVID-19 cases, which showed a short-term decrease in counties with a mask mandate, instead of the overall case count, which showed a significant increase in counties with a mask mandate.
    • The CDC study also failed to adjust for urban/rural bias. Urban counties are more densely populated than rural ones, and the population difference should affect how we compare the data. When it was adjusted by a researcher at the Kansas Policy Institute, the data showed that counties with mask mandates had faster COVID-19 growth than counties with no mandate.
    • You can read all this for yourself here.
  • One study attempted to look at over 1,000 US counties to prove that mask mandates caused COVID-19 hospitalization rates to fall. The study was withdrawn after the authors discovered that positive cases and hospitalizations actually increased after mask mandates were put in place.
  • A new Danish study assigned 3030 participants to wear masks and 2994 to a control group with no masks. At the end of the study, 42 masked people (1.8%) had caught COVID-19, compared to 53 people (2.1%) in the unmasked group. This is a 0.3% difference between the groups, showing definitively that masks do not slow COVID-19 transmission.
  • A November 11, 2020, study using Marine recruits showed similar results. There were 1848 recruits who had a 2-week home quarantine followed by a second 2-week quarantine on a closed college campus, where they wore masks, social distanced, and had their temperatures and symptoms monitored. Two days into their second quarantine, 16 tested positive for COVID-19. By the end, 35 more were positive. Of the 1554 recruits who didn’t participate in the study and weren’t subjected to the strict measures, 26 tested positive.
  • A CDC report from September showed results from a flawed, small study of patients who tested positive for COVID. Despite the issues with the study, the results were telling: 70% of them reported “always” wearing a mask.
  • A December 15, 2020, study in Physics of Fluids found that a 3-layer, unused surgical mask is 65% efficient at filtering particles, but once it’s used, that efficiency drops to 25%. Even more alarming, the authors found that wearing the mask increased the amount of COVID-19 particles deposited in the nose, because the particles are so small:
    • “They found that wearing a mask ‘significantly slows down’ airflow, reducing a mask’s efficacy and making a person more susceptible to inhaling aerosols into the nose — where SARS-CoV-2 likes to lurk.”
  • In addition to possibly increasing COVID-19 transmission, masks also have other negative health effects.
    • Dermatologists have also raised concerns about rising facial yeast infections, mask-related acne (called “maskne”), facial itching, and rosacea.
    • A September 2020 study found that mask wearing caused difficulty breathing on exertion.
    • An Ear, Nose, and Throat specialists’ office in Chicago notes that mask wearing can induce asthma attacks and worsen seasonal allergies from contaminants getting caught in the mask.
    • A March 2020 study found that frequent mask wearing is associated with increased headaches, especially in those already prone to headaches.
    • Anecdotally, I and many others I know all have increased congestion in our throats on the days we must wear masks for long periods of time.

Lockdowns and Gathering Restrictions: Are They Slowing the Spread?

  • Based on the trends over the last 10 months, it’s obvious that COVID-19 moves in waves. We’ve seen COVID case spikes, plateaus, declines, then larger spikes. Kansas is currently in a plateau, and Michael Austin at Kansas Policy Institute predicts we’re headed into another decline in cases.
Source: Michael Austin, MA, Facebook page
  • The American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) agrees that COVID-19 moves through communities regardless of lockdown measures, writing that “most government authorities have likely acted in error.”
  • In the same piece, AIER noted that an August 2020 paper showed clear evidence that government interventions including lockdowns, travel bans, and mask mandates “do not seem to affect virus transmission rates overall.” They also noted:
    • “The epidemic has a natural tendency to spread quickly at first and slow down, seemingly on its own, a point made not only here but as early as April 14 by Isaac Ben-Israel. Meanwhile governors imagine that very specific rules for opening bars and restaurants are the key to containment.”
  • An August 2020 analysis of global lockdowns by AIER found that there was very little correlation between the strictness of a country’s lockdown and the spread of COVID-19. Here are some key quotes from the piece:
    • “Sweden, which stayed relatively open, fared better than countries like Italy and the United Kingdom which implemented harsh lockdowns. The same goes for Latvia which had a moderate response to COVID-19 yet maintained some of the lowest cases and deaths.” (More on Sweden’s current situation below.)
    • “. . . even within the United States results have been highly random as some states like South Dakota remained open while experiencing relatively few cases or deaths. States like New York, California, and Massachusetts have some of the heaviest restrictions but also some of the most cases as well as deaths.”
    • “In short, there is far too much inconsistency associated with lockdowns to confidently claim they are an effective policy, especially given the terrible tradeoffs that come with them.”
  • To try to combat the above data, the media loves to hate on Sweden because of its relatively loose restrictions throughout the pandemic and the current spike in cases and mortality. Sweden had imposed a 50-person limit on gatherings but left other measures voluntary in the hope of creating herd immunity. Sweden has since imposed lockdowns.
    • The Wall Street Journal, while critical of Sweden, admitted on December 16 that, “On some counts, even without imposing a lockdown, Sweden has fared better in terms of per capita deaths than countries like Belgium, France or the U.K., that were slower than other European countries to impose restrictions.”
    • AIER argues convincingly that Sweden’s current death rate is not due to the lack of lockdowns. It’s due to unusually high amounts of “dry tinder”—a buildup of vulnerable people (mostly the elderly) who would have died of the flu in 2019. Unlike her neighbors, Sweden had two very mild flu seasons in 2018/19 and 2019/20, and the data shows that Sweden’s COVID death rate as of November matches the amount of “dry tinder” in the country.
    • A paper out of George Mason University’s economics department proposes 15 reasons, including “dry tinder,” why Sweden has seen such high death rates, including her higher population of vulnerable people, higher number of nursing homes than surrounding Nordics, and the tendency for healthcare workers to work in multiple Swedish nursing homes, increasing risk of transmission to high-risk groups.
    • The authors of the above paper stated on AIER that even if lockdowns helped slow the spread, the data shows that the March 12 lockdowns surrounding Nordics took would not have helped Sweden because the people who were going to die were already infected at that point.
    • Sweden’s herd immunity strategy was not wrong. The US adopted a similar strategy in March/April when it was 14 days to slow the spread, flatten the curve, etc. The US had the goal of keeping the spread in “slow motion,” but the underlying assumption was that most of the US would get the virus at some point.
    • None of what’s happening in Sweden provides evidence that lockdowns work. Sweden’s situation reveals that COVID-19 clearly targets a particular group (the elderly, especially those with comorbidities), and protective measures should be focused on that group (not on society as a whole).

Detrimental Effects of Lockdowns

  • What is clear about lockdowns is that they have many negative effects on society.
  • In a November 2020 article, AEIR compiled CDC data on a variety of effects of lockdowns on society. There is far more data than I can summarize here, but these are some of the highlights:   
    • In terms of mental health, CDC data demonstrates that lockdowns increase substance abuse, anxiety and depression, suicide/suicidal thoughts, and opioid-related deaths.
    • Hunger and poverty both increased worldwide because of lockdowns. CDC data shows that hunger related to the pandemic caused the deaths of 10,000 children. Additionally, undernourishment and food insecurity increased significantly. Millions of people are expected to fall into “extreme poverty” worldwide by 2021.
    • The US economy has suffered from lockdowns, with 52% of 18- to 29-year-olds living with their parents—a record-breaking number. In March/April, 41.5% of nonelderly adults’ jobs were impacted or income lost due to lockdowns. The 2nd quarter GDP decreased by 32.9%.
  • The CDC tracks typical death rates from various conditions each year in the US. Any deaths above the expected number for the year are labeled “excess deaths.”
  • The number of “excess deaths” related to COVID is highly disputed. In a paper that was retracted by Johns Hopkins University (but not by the author), economist Genevieve Briand looked at the CDC data and noticed that deaths from some of the most common causes had a sharp decrease in 2020 that mirrored the increase in COVID deaths:
    • “the total decrease in deaths by other causes almost exactly equals the increase in deaths by COVID-19. This suggests, according to Briand, that the COVID-19 death toll is misleading. Briand believes that deaths due to heart diseases, respiratory diseases, influenza and pneumonia may instead be recategorized as being due to COVID-19.”
    • Briand argues that deaths are being “misclassified” and that there is “no evidence that COVID-19 has created any excess deaths.”
  • But let’s assume for a moment that the excess death rates from COVID are accurate…
  • The Federalist pointed out in a November 2020 piece that lockdowns are likely killing almost as many people as COVID. Based on CDC data, the US had at that time 300,000 excess deaths and 240,000 deaths labeled as COVID deaths. But once mortality inflation is accounted for—meaning deaths where the patient had other conditions and died with COVID and not from COVID—there are about 160,000 actual deaths from COVID.
    • So what’s causing the other 140,000 excess deaths? “Although CDC records are far from comprehensive, they do provide some explanation: So far in 2020, the CDC data shows there have been about 32,000 excess Alzheimer’s deaths and 12,000 excess diabetes deaths. The Alzheimer’s deaths are particularly heart-wrenching, as these represent people literally dying from loneliness and lack of human interaction. The excess diabetes deaths could be due to the interruption of normal health-care operations. There are many other documented and postulated sources of excess deaths, including delayed emergency room visits due to fear of COVID resulting in postponed or skipped treatment for heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and other ailments. Deaths of despair, such as suicides and drug overdoses, have increased.”

The short version: Mask mandates have failed to slow the spread of COVID and may actually make you more likely to catch it. Lockdowns don’t appear to slow the spread of COVID at all, and they damage the economy and mental and physical health of people. If we can trust the excess death number, then lockdowns may actually be killing almost as many people as COVID-19 is. Stay tuned for part 3!

†Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

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