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MASKS MANDATES - Are they history?

When I got back from France last autumn, I noted that the French had to wear masks a lot, whereas we in England did not. I thought we were right and wrote a note about my reasons, which I intended to put on this website, but for some reason didn't. Now mask requirements have mercifully been largely dropped, so maybe there is no reason to go over the ground again. But I'm not so sure.

Obviously, you still see some masks around and one assumes that the wearers think they are protecting themselves or perhaps others. But also the reason the requirements have been dropped may well be, at least in part, because Covid is now so much less dangerous. What will happen if another virus or a variant turns up that appears more threatening? Will we be back again, having to hide our faces? I read that the Guardian still thinks that wearing a mask is "the right thing to do", even now.

All of this makes me want to revisit my note and update it - setting out my reasons for thinking that mask requirements not only don't make sense but - according to recent research - do positive harm.

My first reason is the simple one: they don’t work Studies have been done comparing the results of states (many in the US) that mandated masks with those that didn’t. They found no correlation between masks and rates of infection, hospitalization or death - although as regards mortality, see below. A study was done very many months ago in Denmark that reached the same conclusion.

Frankly, these conclusions are somewhat counter-intuitive, until you get to my second reason. Scientists tell us that Covid spreads primarily by so-called aerosols, the fine invisible spray of moisture that gets released every time we breathe. Masks don’t prevent that happening – apparently the aerosols can even go through the mask material. They certainly go round the masks. My private theory is that masks may even help the aerosols spread more widely, but that’s just me – take no notice! Although it could explain the rather bizarre fact that in one of the studies a mask-mandating state had worse Covid results.

I should now add a rider to the above. More recently a study was done in Kansas. Kansas, rather conveniently for this purpose, is divided into counties, some of which imposed mask mandates and others didn't. Unsurprisingly, there was no difference in rates of infection between the two. As the other studies had shown, masks make no difference. But regarding mortality, the results of the study were shocking. The counties that imposed mask mandates experienced significantly higher levels of mortality (50-80% higher). Who knows why this could have been. One theory is that if you catch the virus when wearing a mask, some of the virus gets caught by the mask and you then go on breathing it back in again, so increasing the so-called "viral load". That could well be the reason.

My third reason is non-scientific and non-medical. Masks give a seriously wrong signal. Presumably we want to get back to normal – as we're certainly doing in this country. Wearing a mask tells the world that we still face a very serious disease. Happily, with the successful vaccination programmes and increasing levels of natural immunity, we no longer are. As the Danish government recently put it “Covid is no longer a critical threat to society”. Quite so. We should continue to be as brave as the Danes. And our own health authorities confirm that Covid is now no more lethal than seasonal flu.

So my conclusion was and is: please let's have no more mask mandates. Particularly now that we know they do more harm than good.

Tony Herbert

2 July 2022

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