Tag: coronavirus

Pandemic logic

Michael Smith:

Perhaps I am unique in this, but I find the arguments around the pandemic panic induced vaccine hysteria quite interesting, not for what they appear to be, but what the arguments really are about.

The arguments, as popularly stated, are allegedly based on the selfishness and ignorance of the people who choose not to be vaccinated. They begin from the premise that the unvaccinated present not only a serious risk to the vaccinated, but a potentially deadly risk.

“Do the right thing for your community”, the self-righteous vaccinated say. “Get your poke and put on your mask, go back to social distancing, and stay at home or we are all gonna die!”

It never dawns on them that making this argument is the very reason people see the vaccinations as a sham. The new “Paper of Record” in America, the Babylon Bee, summed this up in a headline a few weeks ago, writing “To Defeat Delta Variant, Experts Recommend Doing All The Things That Didn’t Work The First Time”.

A little application of basic reasoning would lead a rational person to say, “Whachu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”

We get the shots, but are still vulnerable to the virus, plus we are going to be required to do the same things we did before we got the shot? What’s the damn point?

Those questions have nothing to do with the efficacy of the vaccine or anything else other than trying to resolve the contradictions in the statements of the government and those of the vaccinated scolds.

Given these unresolvable contradictions, one must consider that there are other motivations at work here. Some I have deduced are, but not limited to, the following:

  • A desire to be socially validated by other vaccinated cool kids
  • A desire to be validated by the authorities
  • An irrational fear of risk and how to manage risk
  • A fundamental lack of understanding data
  • A fear that the vaccines don’t really work
  • A fear that if the vaccines don’t really work and the vaccinated person gets sick, there will not be a hospital resources available for them
  • A desire to be seen as superior to others – smarter, more moral, more fit for participating in “modern” society

Every one of the preceding motivations does indicate a state of selfishness, but not on the part of the unvaccinated – it is the vaccinated who are the selfish.

There was a particular letter to the editor in our local paper, the Park Record, that included the statement, and I quote: “Personal freedom ends when it puts another at risk.”

Dear God. This person took the time to write this down and email it to the editors. Too bad they didn’t think about what it really means before they did.

Imagine this applied to the flu or even to driving a car.

Brain dead morons. They walk among us – and they are hangry.

More dangerous to kids: COVID or Milwaukee?

Dan O’Donnell asks that question posed in the headline:

On the whole, human beings aren’t especially great at risk assessment.  Far-fetched, exotic terrors fill us with dread, but we all but ignore the dangerous yet mundane.  We fret, for instance, about an upcoming flight but drive to the airport with one eye on our phone and one hand on a burrito.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn this phenomenon into sharp relief, especially as it pertains to the disease’s impact on children.  We closed schools almost instantly, cancelled play dates and extra-curricular activities by the millions, and forced children to wear masks nearly everywhere they went.

Even now, we panic because younger children aren’t eligible for the COVID vaccine and obsess over the rising rate of pediatric hospitalizations to the point that we have blinded ourselves to the truth: COVID-19 is far less dangerous to children in Wisconsin than the streets of Milwaukee.

COVID-19 has yet to kill a single child younger than 10 in this state.  10 children under 10 have been murdered in Milwaukee since the start of 2020.  Among children older than 10, three have died with or from COVID, while 35 have been the victims of homicide over the past 21 months.

Put another way, a child has died of COVID in Wisconsin every 208 days, but a child has been murdered in Milwaukee once every two weeks.  An additional 149 children have been injured in nonfatal shootings, meaning that a child is 65 times more likely to be shot or killed in Milwaukee than to die of COVID.

Guess which issue Wisconsin’s media and policymakers have focused on and which they have largely ignored.  Their obsession with school closures and mask mandates may have succeeded in convincing a percentage of parents that COVID is a grave danger to their children, but the statistics simply don’t support the fearmongering.

As of this writing, a total of 120,247 children have been infected with COVID-19.  Three have died.  That’s a death rate of 0.025 percent.  A child in Wisconsin has a 1-in-40,082 chance of dying from COVID-19, but a 1-in-15,000 chance of being struck by lightning at some point in his or her life.

Not only is COVID almost universally survivable for Wisconsin’s children, it has also not hospitalized them in overwhelming numbers.  Just 1,376 children have been hospitalized with COVID out of the more than 120,000 who have been infected—a hospitalization rate of 1.1 percent.

What’s more, new research suggests that the real percentage might be far lower.  A Harvard University study published this week indicates that that “roughly half of all the hospitalized patients showing up on COVID-data dashboards in 2021 may have been admitted for another reason entirely or had only a mild presentation of disease.”

pair of earlier studies of pediatric patients published in the journal Hospital Pediatrics “found that pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 were overcounted by at least 40 percent.”

In one study, researchers concluded that 45 percent of hospitalizations “were unlikely to be caused by SARS-CoV-2” and were actually due to “surgeries, cancer treatment, a psychiatric episode, urologic issues, and various infections such as cellulitis, among other diagnoses.”

In the second study, “the authors classified 40 percent of patients as having ‘incidental’ diagnosis, meaning there was no documentation of COVID-19 symptoms prior to hospitalization.”  The obvious conclusion is that the patients were not hospitalized for COVID-19, but rather tested positive once they visited the hospital for treatment of some other malady.

Extrapolating these studies to Wisconsin’s pediatric hospitalizations would suggest that only about 550 children were actually hospitalized with severe cases of COVID-19, not the 1,376 that the Department of Health Services has logged.  It would also mean that the actual child hospitalization rate in Wisconsin is closer to 0.046 percent.

This is not to suggest that COVID-19 cannot be a serious disease for children, but it is not at all likely to be.  Only a small percentage of those who contract it had to be hospitalized for it and three died either with or of it.

With the emotional school board battles over masks in the classrooms accompanied by a constant drumbeat of media doomsaying, one can be forgiven for thinking COVID is a far greater threat to children than it is.

The data, though, is conclusive: COVID-19 is nowhere near as dangerous to children as we have been led to believe it is.


Philip Klein:

Most people have at some point in their lives been asked to entertain a version of the cheesy question, “If you knew you had one day to live, what would you do?” It’s often posed as a playful game or essay topic or used by self-help gurus to prod people into trying to get a deeper sense of their priorities. But it’s time for everybody to start asking themselves a different question: If COVID-19 will be here forever, is this what you want the rest of your life to look like? In this case, it’s not an idle or theoretical exercise. It will be central to how we choose to live and function as a society for years or even decades to come.

Ever since the onset of COVID-19, we have more or less been living under an illusion. That illusion was that it would reach some sort of natural endpoint — a point at which the pandemic would be declared “over,” and we could all more or less go back to normal. The original promise of taking “15 days to slow the spread” or six weeks to “flatten the curve” has long since been reduced to a punchline.

In March of 2020, the outside estimates were that this coronavirus period would come to an end when safe and effective vaccines became widely available. Even the infamous Imperial College London report, viewed as draconian at the time for its estimate of up to 2.2 million deaths in the U.S. absent sustained intervention, predicted that its mitigation strategies “will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available.” Yet vaccines have been available for anybody who wants one for nearly six months, and our leaders have ignored the obvious off-ramp. The CDC backtracked on guidance and said that vaccinated people must wear masks in public, and many people and jurisdictions have listened. For example, Montgomery County, Md., has an extraordinarily high vaccination rate — with 96 percent of the eligible over-twelve population having received at least one dose and 87 percent of them being fully vaccinated. By its own metrics, the county has “low utilization” of hospital beds. Yet the county requires masks indoors — including in schools. In Oregon, vaccinated people are required to wear masks even outdoors. And it isn’t just liberal enclaves. A new Economist/YouGov poll found that eight in ten Americans report having worn a mask in the past week at least “some of the time” when outside their homes, with 58 percent masking “always” or “most of the time.” If masking has remained so widespread among adults months after vaccines became widely available, why will it end in schools after vaccines become available for children?

When operating under the assumption that there is a time limit on interventions, it’s much easier to accept various disruptions and inconveniences. While there have been ferocious debates over whether various mitigation strategies have ever been necessary, we should at least be able to agree that the debate changes the longer such restrictions are required. People making sacrifices for a few weeks, or even a year, under the argument that doing so saves lives is one thing. But if those sacrifices are indefinitely extended, it’s a much different debate.

There are many Americans who willingly locked themselves down and who still favor some restrictions. But what if this were to drag on for five years? Ten years? Twenty years? Do you want your children to be forced to wear masks throughout their childhoods? Do you want to bail on weddings if some guests may be unvaccinated? Skip future funerals? Ditch Thanksgiving when there’s a winter surge? Keep grandparents away from their grandkids whenever there’s a new variant spreading? Are you never going to see a movie in a theater again?

These are not wild scenarios. The Delta variant has led to surges throughout the world months after vaccines became widely available. Despite being a model of mass vaccination, Israel has been dealing with a significant Delta spike. To be clear, vaccines still appear to be quite effective at significantly reducing the risk of hospitalization and death. But if the virus continues to adapt and people need to get booster shots every six months or so, it seems there’s a good chance that the coronavirus will continue to spread for a very long time. So the question is how we, as individuals, and society as a whole, should adapt to this reality. Instead of thinking in terms of policies that may be tolerable for a very short period of time, it’s time to consider what would happen if such policies had to continue forever.

Whatever arguments were made to justify interventions early on in the pandemic, post-vaccine, we are in a much different universe. There is a negligible statistical difference in the likelihood of severe health consequences between vaccinated people who go about their business without taking extra precautions, and those who take additional precautions. Yet having to observe various protocols in perpetuity translates into a reduced quality of life. Put another way, the sort of question we need to start asking ourselves is not whether we can tolerate masking for one trip to the grocery store, but whether we want to live in a society in which we can never again go shopping without a mask.

People may ultimately come to different conclusions about the amount of restrictions they want to accept, regardless of the time frame. But at a minimum, we need to dispense with the framework that assumes the end of COVID-19 is just around the corner and instead recognize that it’s likely here to stay.

The vaccine scolds

Dr. Richard Menger of the University of South Alabama:

I practice medicine in an emerging Covid-19 hot spot in a state with one of the lowest vaccination rates. Last year I saw Covid at its worst when I deployed to New York to take care of patients in an overflow intensive-care unit. I am vaccinated. I wouldn’t say I “believe in science,” because science doesn’t work that way, but I trust the scientific process. Yet when it comes to trust and persuasion, the medical profession isn’t always winning the Covid-19 battle, and it’s worth understanding why.

The current attempts at persuading people to get the vaccine follow the typical trinity of persuasion put forth by Aristotle —logos, pathos and ethos. Social media and government platforms focus on data (logos), such as the stark disparities in serious illness between the vaccinated and the not. Then it turns into emotional pleas (pathos), with personal stories of lost patients or loved ones. Advocates talk about a moral duty of getting a vaccine (ethos).

But when the desired response doesn’t materialize—when a substantial portion of the country still refuses a shot—the calls devolve into histrionic and condescending pleas. Many people respond by digging in their heels. Plenty of research shows that once people make a decision and attach a strong moral identity to it, they ignore contrary data.

The medical community needs to confront the ugly reality of distrust, especially in my state. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study is a living memory. Between 1932 and 1972, government researchers actively withheld treatment for syphilis while promising free medical care, meals and burial insurance. Some reluctance in blindly trusting a new vaccine is understandable.

It is also cause for pause that the government appears willing to coerce Americans to take a vaccine that doesn’t have full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. President Biden has considered a $100 payment for vaccination. Such fiscal rewards will likely have the biggest sway on the vulnerable populations. But the government can use sticks as well as carrots. Is it morally acceptable to tax the unvaccinated $100? How would you feel if the government applied this tactic to something you strongly disagreed with?

The best way to change minds is to talk to people and treat them with respect and dignity. I understand a lot of my healthcare colleagues are frustrated and tired, but a sensationalist, sanctimonious narrative driven by social media doesn’t help anyone. This is part of our job: persuading people to take medicine they don’t want to take.

Healthcare professionals have a challenging obligation to work to understand where people are coming from, build a relationship, address their fears to help them understand, gently correct information that is wrong, admit when medicine was wrong and medical authorities misled people, motivate them based on their needs, and develop networks of support in the community.

Using this approach and more, Jacqueline Brooks, superintendent of the Macon County, Ala., School District, helped lead the charge that resulted in universal vaccination among the district’s custodians, bus drivers, and lunchroom workers. Macon County includes the city of Tuskegee.

Ms. Brooks engaged in personal conversations, reduced barriers to appointments, formed a partnership with a local medical center, made sure people were comfortable with the decision, and praised them for making a “sacrifice” and “taking on risk” for the community. Most important, when an initial cohort was in a “wait-and-see” mode, she acknowledged the risk, didn’t pressure them, and offered reassurance and data as more people they knew became vaccinated. The results speak for themselves.

Vaccines and facemasks, and being wrong

Jacob Sullum:

Like many Americans, I do not like wearing a face mask, which hurts my ears, fogs my glasses, and makes my bearded face itch. And while I think businesses should be free to require face coverings as a safeguard against COVID-19, I am skeptical of government-imposed mask mandates, especially in K-12 schools.

At the same time, I recognize that my personal peeves and policy preferences are logically distinct from the empirical question of how effective masks are at preventing virus transmission. From the beginning, however, the Great American Mask Debate has been strongly influenced by partisan and ideological commitments, with one side exaggerating the evidence in favor of this precaution and the other side ignoring or downplaying it.

Last September, Robert Redfield, then the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), described masks as “the most important, powerful public health tool we have,” going so far as to say they provided more protection than vaccines would. In a 2020 New York Times op-ed piece, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asserted that “wearing a mask has been proven to reduce the chance of spreading Covid-19 by about 70 percent”—a claim that even the CDC said was not scientifically justified.

The CDC invited skepticism about the value of general mask wearing by dismissing ituntil April 2020, when the agency suddenly began recommending the practice as an important weapon against the pandemic. Although that memorable reversal supposedly was justified by evolving science, the main concern that the CDC cited—asymptomatic transmission—was a danger that had been recognized for months.

When the CDC changed its advice, research on the effectiveness of face masks in preventing virus transmission was surprisingly sparse and equivocal. Although laboratory experiments supported the commonsensical assumption that almost any barrier to respiratory droplets, including DIY cloth coverings, was better than nothing, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) generally had not confirmed that intuition.

A January 2021 review of the evidence in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found “no RCT for the impact of masks on community transmission of any respiratory infection in a pandemic.” The article, which also looked at observational studies, said “direct evidence of the efficacy of mask use is supportive, but inconclusive.”

The authors then considered “a wider body of evidence,” including epidemiological analyses, laboratory studies, and information about COVID-19’s transmission characteristics. “The preponderance of evidence,” they concluded, “indicates that mask wearing reduces transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected respiratory particles in both laboratory and clinical contexts.”

In a “science brief” last updated on May 7, the CDC says “experimental and epidemiological data support community masking to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2.” But it acknowledges that “further research is needed to expand the evidence base for the protective effect of cloth masks.”

Where does that leave Americans who are unpersuaded by the existing evidence? Banned from major social media platforms, if they are not careful.

YouTube recently suspended Sen. Rand Paul’s account because of a video in which the Kentucky Republican said “most of the masks that you can get over the counter” have “no value.” Those statements ran afoul of YouTube’s ban on “claims that masks do not play a role in preventing the contraction or transmission of COVID-19,” which is similar to policies adopted by Facebook and Twitter.

While conceding that “private companies have the right to ban me if they want to,” Paul said he was troubled by the fact that the leading social media platforms, partly in response to government pressure, seem to be insisting that users toe the official line on COVID-19. He has a point.

Paul’s criticism of cloth masks was stronger than the science warrants, reflecting a broader tendency on the right to dismiss them as mere talismans without seriously addressing the evidence in their favor. But rational discourse entails rebutting arguments by citing contrary evidence instead of treating them as too dangerous for people to consider.

Robby Soave:

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now think that many Americans will need booster shots in the coming months, and the Biden Administration has plans to make that happen. While the vaccines still provide remarkable protection against severe disease and death, recent studies suggest that an additional shot will help decrease transmission of the more infectious delta variant and prevent breakthrough cases.

For vaccine-hesitant rightwing people—who constitute a substantial proportion of the anti-vax movement, though by no means the whole thing—the need for booster shots has been met with considerable opprobrium and even suggestions that this means the vaccines don’t work. Former President Trump called booster shots a “crazy” idea.

“The whole thing is just crazy,” he said in a recent interview on Fox News. “It doesn’t—you wouldn’t think you would need a booster.”

These comments will undoubtedly contribute to vaccine hesitancy and undermine confidence in booster shots; as such, this sort of talk is deeply irresponsible. It’s as if the former president doesn’t know any better, or just can’t help himself.

So what’s The New York Times‘ excuse?

Astonishingly, the paper of record has opted to give support to this Trumpian denial of vaccine efficacy. A recent news story by Times reporter Apoorva Mandavilli—whose articles on the pandemic have constituted some of the most fear-driven and pro-restriction writing appearing anywhere in the mainstream media—cast doubt on the need for boosters and suggested that people could “easily” obtain the same level of protection by wearing a mask instead.

Mandavilli quotes Boston University epidemiologist Ellie Murray in opposition to booster shots for the general population:

Dr. Murray said boosters would undoubtedly boost immunity in an individual, but the benefit may be minimal — and obtained just as easily by wearing a mask, or avoiding indoor dining and crowded bars.

The administration’s emphasis on vaccines has undermined the importance of building other precautions into people’s lives in ways that are comfortable and sustainable, and on building capacity for testing, she and other experts said.

“This is part of why I think the administration’s focus on vaccines is so damaging to morale,” she added. “We probably won’t be going back to normal anytime soon.”

Note the agenda here: The “experts”—i.e., overly cautious epidemiologists picked by The New York Times to give weight to Team Blue’s quixotic COVID-19 mitigation preferences—think the focus on vaccines is damaging because it comes at the expense of a pro-lockdown, pro-masking, pro-social-distancing strategy. Vaccination, broadly speaking, lets most people live their lives like normal again; this is somehow viewed as a bad thing.

These policy preferences are completely contrary to the reality of the human social experience. The health benefit of a booster shot is not “obtained just as easily by wearing a mask or avoiding indoor dining or crowded bars,” because wearing masks and eschewing conversation with other people is much more taxing than getting a shot. Many normal people actually like talking to people in bars and seeing human faces, so forgoing this indefinitely is not a trivial matter. (Note that the Times recently ran an op-ed piece titled: “Actually, Wearing a Mask Can Help Your Children Learn.”)

If Trump deserves criticism for failing to urge his base to get their shots—and he does—then why should The New York Times get a pass for suggesting to its readers that regular masking is an effective substitute for booster shots? The Biden Administration frets constantly about COVID-19 misinformation being spread by right-wing accounts on social media. But Mandavilli is guilty of the same: She called the delta variant “as contagious as chicken pox” in an article that preached doom and gloom about the current state of the pandemic. It later turned out that this claim, sourced to an internal CDC document, originally appeared in an inaccurate NYT infographic.

I wrote previously that the media’s enthusiasm for mask mandates is so strong that it occasionally seems as if some liberal and mainstream writers prefer masks to vaccines, even though the latter is a vastly superior tool for defeating COVID-19. Now The New York Times has said it quite explicitly: Who needs booster shots when experts say we can just wear masks forever?

To mask, or not

Jeffrey H. Anderson:

“Seriously people—STOP BUYING MASKS!” So tweeted then–surgeon general Jerome Adams on February 29, 2020, adding, “They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus.” Two days later, Adams said, “Folks who don’t know how to wear them properly tend to touch their faces a lot and actually can increase the spread of coronavirus.” Less than a week earlier, on February 25, public-health authorities in the United Kingdom had published guidance that masks were unnecessary even for those providing community or residential care: “During normal day-to-day activities facemasks do not provide protection from respiratory viruses, such as COVID-19 and do not need to be worn by staff.” About a month later, on March 30, World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies Program executive director Mike Ryan said that “there is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any particular benefit.” He added, “In fact there’s some evidence to suggest the opposite” because of the possibility of not “wearing a mask properly or fitting it properly” and of “taking it off and all the other risks that are otherwise associated with that.”

Surgical masks were designed to keep medical personnel from inadvertently infecting patients’ wounds, not to prevent the spread of viruses. Public-health officials’ advice in the early days of Covid-19 was consistent with that understanding. Then, on April 3, 2020, Adams announced that the CDC was changing its guidance and that the general public should hereafter wear masks whenever sufficient social distancing could not be maintained.

Fast-forward 15 months. Rand Paul has been suspended from YouTube for a week for saying, “Most of the masks you get over the counter don’t work.” Many cities across the country, following new CDC guidance handed down amid a spike in cases nationally caused by the Delta variant, are once again mandating indoor mask-wearing for everyone, regardless of inoculation status. The CDC further recommends that all schoolchildren and teachers, even those who have had Covid-19 or have been vaccinated, should wear masks.

The CDC asserts this even though its own statistics show that Covid-19 is not much of a threat to schoolchildren. Its numbers show that more people under the age of 18 died of influenza during the 2018–19 flu season—a season of “moderate severity” that lasted eight months—than have died of Covid-19 across more than 18 months. What’s more, the CDC says that out of every 1,738 Covid-19-related deaths in the U.S. in 2020 and 2021, just one has involved someone under 18 years of age; and out of every 150 deaths of someone under 18 years of age, just one has been Covid-related. Yet the CDC declares that schoolchildren, who learn in part from communication conveyed through facial expressions, should nevertheless hide their faces—and so should their teachers.

How did mask guidance change so profoundly? Did the medical research on the effectiveness of masks change—and in a remarkably short period of time—or just the guidance on wearing them?

Since we are constantly told that the CDC and other public-health entities are basing their recommendations on science, it’s crucial to know what, specifically, has been found in various medical studies. Significant choices about how our republic should function cannot be made on the basis of science alone—they require judgment and the weighing of countless considerations—but they must be informed by knowledge of it.

In truth, the CDC’s, U.K.’s, and WHO’s earlier guidance was much more consistent with the best medical research on masks’ effectiveness in preventing the spread of viruses. That research suggests that Americans’ many months of mask-wearing has likely provided little to no health benefit and might even have been counterproductive in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

It’s striking how much the CDC, in marshalling evidence to justify its revised mask guidance, studiously avoids mentioning randomized controlled trials. RCTs are uniformly regarded as the gold standard in medical research, yet the CDC basically ignores them apart from disparaging certain ones that particularly contradict the agency’s position. In a “Science Brief” highlighting studies that “demonstrate that mask wearing reduces new infections” and serving as the main public justification for its mask guidance, the CDC provides a helpful matrix of 15 studies—none RCTs. The CDC instead focuses strictly on observational studies completed after Covid-19 began. In general, observational studies are not only of lower quality than RCTs but also are more likely to be politicized, as they can inject the researcher’s judgment more prominently into the inquiry and lend themselves, far more than RCTs, to finding what one wants to find.

A particular favorite of the CDC’s, so much so that the agency put out a glowing press release on it and continues to give it pride of placement in its brief, is an observational (specifically, cohort) study focused on two Covid-positive hairstylists at a beauty salon in Missouri. The two stylists, who were masked, provided services for 139 people, who were mostly masked, for several days after developing Covid-19 symptoms. The 67 customers who subsequently chose to get tested for the coronavirus tested negative, and none of the 72 others reported symptoms.

This study has major limitations. For starters, any number of the 72 untested customers could have had Covid-19 but been asymptomatic, or else had symptoms that they chose not to report to the Greene County Health Department, the entity doing the asking. The apparent lack of spread of Covid-19 could have been a result of good ventilation, good hand hygiene, minimal coughing by the stylists, or the fact that stylists generally, as the researchers note, “cut hair while clients are facing away from them.” The researchers also observe that “viral shedding” of the coronavirus “is at its highest during the 2 to 3 days before symptom onset.” Yet no customers who saw the stylists when they were at their most contagious were tested for Covid-19 or asked about symptoms. Most importantly, this study does not have a control group. Nobody has any idea how many people, if any, would have been infected had no masks been worn in the salon. Late last year, at a gym in Virginia in which people apparently did not wear masks most of the time, a trainer tested positive for the coronavirus. As CNN reported, the gym contacted everyone whom the trainer had coached before getting sick—50 members in all—“but not one member developed symptoms.” Clearly, this doesn’t prove that not wearing masks prevents transmission.

Another CDC-highlighted study, by Rader et al., invited people across the country to answer a survey. The low (11 percent) response rate—including about twice as many women as men—indicated that the mix of respondents was hardly random. The study found that “a high percentage of self-reported face mask-wearing is associated with a higher probability of transmission control,” and “the highest percentage of reported mask wearers” are found, unsurprisingly, “along the coasts and southern border, and in large urban areas.” However, as the researchers note, “It is difficult to disentangle individuals’ engagement in mask-wearing from their adoption of other preventive hygiene practices, and mask-wearing might serve as a proxy for other risk avoidance behaviors not queried.” Moreover, achieving greater “transmission control” is not remotely the same thing as ensuring fewer deaths. For example, per capita, Utah is in the top ten in the nation in Covid-19 cases and the bottom ten in Covid-19 deaths, while Massachusetts is in the bottom half in cases and the top five in deaths.

An additional observational study, but one that the CDC does not reference in its brief, is a large, international Bayesian study by Leech, et al. It finds that mask-wearing by 100 percent of the population “corresponds to” a 24.6 percent reduction in transmission of the novel coronavirus. Mask mandates correspond to no decrease in transmission: “For mandates we see no reduction: 0.0 percent.” Like all observational studies, however, this study is ill-equipped to show causation, to separate out the effects of just one variable from among other, frequently related, ones.

Mask supporters often claim that we have no choice but to rely on observational studies instead of RCTs, because RCTs cannot tell us whether masks work or not. But what they really mean is that they don’t like what the RCTs show.

The randomized controlled trial dates, in a sense, to 1747, when Royal Navy surgeon James Lind divided seamen suffering from similar cases of scurvy into six pairs and tried different methods of treatment on each. Lind writes, “The consequence was, that the most sudden and visible good effects were perceived from the use of oranges and lemons.”

The RCT eventually became firmly established as the most reliable way to test medical interventions. The following passage, from Abdelhamid Attia, an M.D. and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Cairo University in Egypt, conveys its dominance:

The importance of RCTs for clinical practice can be illustrated by its impact on the shift of practice in hormone replacement therapy (HRT). For decades HRT was considered the standard care for all postmenopausal, symptomatic and asymptomatic women. Evidence for the effectiveness of HRT relied always on observational studies[,] mostly cohort studies. But a single RCT that was published in 2002 . . . has changed clinical practice all over the world from the liberal use of HRT to the conservative use in selected symptomatic cases and for the shortest period of time. In other words, one well conducted RCT has changed the practice that relied on tens, and probably hundreds, of observational studies for decades.

A randomized controlled trial divides participants into different groups on a randomized basis. At least one group receives an “intervention,” or treatment, that is generally tested against a control group not receiving the intervention. The twofold strength of an RCT is that it allows researchers to isolate one variable—to test whether a given intervention causes an intended effect—while at the same time making it very hard for researchers to produce their own preferred outcomes.

This is true at least so long as an RCT’s findings are based on “intention-to-treat” analysis, whereby all participants are kept in the treatment group to which they were originally assigned and none are excluded from the analysis, regardless of whether they actually received the intended treatment. Eric McCoy, an M.D. at the University of California, Irvine, explains that intention-to-treat analysis avoids bias and “preserves the benefits of randomization, which cannot be assumed when using other methods of analysis.”

Such other methods of analysis include subgroup, multivariable, and per-protocol analysis. Subgroup analysis is susceptible to “cherry-picking”—as researchers hunt for anything showing statistical significance—or to being swayed by random chance. In one famous example, aspirin was found to help prevent fatal heart attacks, but not in the subgroups where patients’ astrological signs were Gemini or Libra.

“Multivariable analysis,” writes Marlies Wakkee, an M.D. and Ph.D. at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, “only adjusts for measured confounding”—that which a researcher decides is worth examining. (Confounders are extra variables that affect the analysis; for example, eating ice cream may be found to correlate with sunburns, but heat is a confounding variable influencing both.) She adds, “This is a significant difference compared to randomized controlled trials, where the randomization process results in an equal distribution of all potential confounders, known and unknown.”

Per-protocol analysis departs from randomization by basically allowing participants to self-select into, or out of, an intervention group. McCoy writes, “Empirical evidence suggests that participants who adhere [to research protocols] tend to do better than those who do not adhere, regardless of assignment to active treatment or placebo.” In other words, per-protocol analysis is more likely to suggest that an intervention, even a fake one, worked. Of these three departures from intention-to-treat analysis, per-protocol analysis is perhaps the most extreme.

With these different methods of analysis in mind, it becomes easier to evaluate the 14 RCTs, conducted around the world, that have tested the effectiveness of masks in reducing the transmission of respiratory viruses. Of these 14, the two that have directly tested “source control”—the oft-repeated claim that wearing a mask benefits others—are a good place to start.

A 2016 study in Beijing by MacIntyre, et al. that claimed to find a possible benefit of masks did not prove very informative, as only one person in the control group—and one in the mask group—developed a laboratory-confirmed infection. Much more illuminating was a 2010 study in France by Canini, et al., which randomly placed sick people, or “index patients,” and their household contacts together into either a mask group or a no-mask control group. The authors “observed a good adherence to the intervention,” meaning that the index patients generally wore the furnished three-ply masks as intended. (No one else was asked to wear them.) Within a week, 15.8 percent of household contacts in the no-mask control group and 16.2 percent in the mask group developed an “influenza-like illness” (ILI). So, the two groups were essentially dead even, with the sliver of an advantage observed in the control group not being statistically significant. The authors write that the study “should be interpreted with caution since the lack of statistical power prevents us to draw formal conclusion regarding effectiveness of facemasks in the context of a seasonal epidemic.” However, they state unequivocally, “In various sensitivity analyses, we did not identify any trend in the results suggesting effectiveness of facemasks.”

With the two RCTs that directly tested source control providing essentially no support for the claim that wearing a mask benefits others, what about RCTs that test the combination of source control and wearer protection? By dividing participants into a hand-hygiene group, a hand-hygiene group that also wore masks, and a control group, three RCTs allow us to see whether the addition of masks (worn both by the sick person and others) provided any benefit over hand hygiene alone.

A 2010 study by Larson, et al. in New York found that those in the hand-hygiene group were less likely to develop any symptoms of an upper respiratory infection (42 percent experienced symptoms) than those in the mask-plus-hand-hygiene group (61 percent). This statistically significant finding suggests that wearing a mask actually undermines the benefits of hand hygiene.

A multivariable analysis of this same study found a significant difference in secondary attack rates (the rate of transmission to others) between the mask-plus-hands group and the control group. On this basis, the authors maintain that mask-wearing “should be encouraged during outbreak situations.” However, this multivariable analysis also found significantly lower rates in crowded homes—“i.e., more crowded households had less transmission”—which tested at a higher confidence level. Thus, to the extent that this multivariable analysis provided any support for masks, it provided at least as much support for crowding.

Two other studies found no statistically significant differences between their mask-plus-hands and hands-only groups. A 2011 study in Bangkok by Simmerman, et al. observed very similar results for both groups. A CDC-funded 2009 study in Hong Kong by Cowling, et al. observed that the hands-only group generally did better than the mask-plus-hands group, but not to a statistically significant degree. Subgroup analysis by Cowling, et al., limited to interventions started within 36 hours of the onset of symptoms, found that the mask-plus-hands group beat the control group to a statistically significant degree in one measure, while the hands-only group beat the control group to a statistically significant degree in two measures. Summarizing this study, Canini writes that “no additional benefit was observed when facemask [use] was added to hand hygiene by comparison with hand hygiene alone.”

So, if masks don’t improve on hand hygiene alone, what about masks versus nothing?

Various RCTs have studied this question, with evidence of masks’ effectiveness proving sparse at best. Aside from a 2009 study in Japan by Jacobs, et al.—which found that those in the mask group were significantly more likely to experience headaches and that “face mask use in health care workers has not been demonstrated to provide benefit”—only two RCTs have produced statistically significant findings in intention-to-treat analysis, and one of those studies contradicted itself.

The previously mentioned 2011 study in Bangkok by Simmerman, et al. found that the secondary attack rate of ILI was twice as high in the mask-plus-hand-hygiene group (18 percent) as in the control group (9 percent), a statistically significant difference. (The ILI rate was 17 percent in the hand-hygiene-only group.) Finding essentially the same thing in multivariable analysis, the researchers wrote that, relative to the control group, the odds ratios for both the mask-plus-hands group and the hands-only group “were twofold in the opposite direction from the hypothesized protective effect.”

Subsequently, a small 2014 study—with 164 participants—by Barasheed, et al. of Australian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, staying in close quarters in tents, found that significantly fewer people in the mask group developed an ILI than in the control group (31 percent to 53 percent). Unlike the exact fever specifications utilized in other RCTs, however, this study accepted self-reporting of “subjective” fever in determining whether someone had an ILI. Lab tests revealed opposite results, with twice as many participants having developed respiratory viruses in the mask group as in the control group. These lab-test findings were not statistically significant; still, the lab tests’ greater reliability makes it far from clear that the masks in this study provided any genuine benefit.

Other RCTs found no statistically significant benefit from masks in intention-to-treat analysis. A 2008 pilot study by Cowling et al. in Hong Kong observed that secondary attack rates, using the CDC’s definition of ILI, were twice as high in the mask group (8 percent) as in the hand hygiene (4 percent) or control (4 percent) groups, but these observed differences were not statistically significant.

Other methods of analysis, deviating from intention-to-treat analysis, found the following.

A per-protocol analysis of a 2009 study in Sydney by MacIntyre, et al. found a significant effect when combining the surgical-mask group with a group wearing N95 hospital respirators. However, the authors write, a “causal link cannot be demonstrated because adherence was not randomized.”

In subgroup analysis of 2010 and 2012 studies in Michigan by Aiello, et al., limited to the final several weeks of the respective studies, each study’s mask-plus-hands group had significantly lower rates of ILI than its control group, while its mask-only group did not. In 2010, the results for the mask-only group also hinted at a slight benefit, reducing ILI by an observed (but not statistically significant) 8 percent to 10 percent. In 2012, the authors concluded, “Masks alone did not provide a benefit.” They nevertheless recommended the combination of mask use and hand hygiene, despite not having tested whether that combination works better than hand hygiene alone.

A multivariable analysis of a smallish (218 participants) 2012 study in Germany by Suess, et al. found that combining the mask group and mask-plus-hands group, while limiting analysis to interventions begun within 48 hours, produced a finding of significantly lower levels of lab-confirmed influenza (but not of ILI) in that combined group (but not in either group separately). The authors, from Berlin, recommended masking and hand hygiene, while opining, “Concerns about acceptability and tolerability of the interventions should not be a reason against their recommendation.”

The only RCT to test mask-wearing’s specific effectiveness against Covid-19 was a 2020 study by Bundgaard, et al. in Denmark. This large (4,862 participants) RCT divided people between a mask-wearing group (providing “high-quality” three-layer surgical masks) and a control group. It took place at a time (spring 2020) when Denmark was encouraging social distancing but not mask use, and 93 percent of those in the mask group wore the masks at least “predominately as recommended.” The study found that 1.8 percent of those in the mask group and 2.1 percent of those in the control group became infected with Covid-19 within a month, with this 0.3-point difference not being statistically significant.

This study—the first RCT on Covid-19 transmission—apparently had difficulty getting published. After the study’s eventual publication, Vinay Prasad, an M.D. at the University of California, San Francisco, described it as “thoughtful,” “useful,” and “well done,” but noted (with criticism), “Some have turned to social media to ask why a trial that may diminish enthusiasm for masks and may be misinterpreted was published in a top medical journal.”

Meanwhile, the CDC website portrays the Danish RCT (with its 4,800 participants) as being far less relevant or important than the observational study of Missouri hairdressers with no control group, dismissing the former as “inconclusive” and “too small” while praising the latter, amazingly, as “showing that wearing a mask prevented the spread of infection”—when it showed nothing of the sort.

Each of the RCTs discussed so far, 13 in all, examined the effectiveness of surgical masks, finding little to no evidence of their effectiveness and some evidence that they might actually increase viral transmission. None of these 13 RCTs examined the effectiveness of cloth masks. “Cloth face coverings,” according to former CDC director Robert Redfield, “are one of the most powerful weapons we have.”

One RCT tested these masks that so many high-profile public-health officials have touted. This “first RCT of cloth masks,” in the trial’s own words (it is apparently still the only one), was a 2015 study by MacIntyre, et al. in Hanoi, Vietnam. A relatively large study, with over 1,100 participants, it tested cloth masks against surgical masks and did not feature a no-mask control group. The trial tested the protection of health-care workers, instructing them to wear a two-layer cloth mask at all times on every shift (“except in the toilet or during tea or lunch breaks”) across four weeks.

The study found that those in the cloth-mask group were 13 times more likely (2.28 percent to 0.17 percent) to develop an influenza-like illness than those in the surgical-mask group—a statistically significant difference. The trial also lab-tested penetration rates and found that while surgical masks were “poor” at preventing the penetration of particles—letting 44 percent through—cloth masks were “extremely poor,” letting 97 percent through. (N95 hospital respirators let 0.1 percent through.)

The authors write that wearing a cloth mask “may potentially increase the infection risk” for health-care workers. “The virus may survive on the surface of the facemasks,” they explain, while “a contaminated cloth mask may transfer pathogen from the mask to the bare hands of the wearer,” which could lead to hand hygiene being “compromised.” As for double-masking, the authors write, “Observations during SARS suggested double-masking . . . increased the risk of infection because of moisture, liquid diffusion and pathogen retention.” Absent further research, they conclude, “cloth masks should not be recommended.”

MacIntyre and several other authors of this study, perhaps under pressure from the CDC or other entities with similar agendas, released what the CDC calls a “follow up study,” in September 2020. This follow-up isn’t really a study at all, certainly not a new RCT, yet the CDC cites it favorably while disparaging the original study, which, the CDC asserts, “had a number of limitations.” This 2020 follow-up pretty much amounts to publishing the finding that when hospitals washed the cloth masks, health-care workers were only about half as likely to get infected as when they washed the cloth masks themselves. Still, the 2020 publication says, “We do not recommend cloth masks for health workers,” much as the 2015 one said.

Other reviews of the evidence have been mixed but generally have come to similar conclusions. Certain masking advocates admit that the RCT evidence is “inconclusive” but cite other forms of evidence that have held up poorly. A study for Cochrane Reviews by Jefferson, et al. that examines 13 of the 14 RCTs discussed herein (all but the Denmark Covid-19 study) notes “uncertainty about the effects of face masks” and writes that “the pooled results of randomised trials did not show a clear reduction in respiratory viral infection with the use of medical/surgical masks during seasonal influenza.” Meantime, a study by Perski, et al., which performed a Bayesian analysis on 11 of the 14 RCTs discussed herein, concluded that when it comes to “the benefits or harms of wearing face masks . . . the scientific evidence should be considered equivocal.” They write, “Available evidence from RCTs is equivocal as to whether or not wearing face masks in community settings results in a reduction in clinically- or laboratory-confirmed viral respiratory infections.”

In sum, of the 14 RCTs that have tested the effectiveness of masks in preventing the transmission of respiratory viruses, three suggest, but do not provide any statistically significant evidence in intention-to-treat analysis, that masks might be useful. The other eleven suggest that masks are either useless—whether compared with no masks or because they appear not to add to good hand hygiene alone—or actually counterproductive. Of the three studies that provided statistically significant evidence in intention-to-treat analysis that was not contradicted within the same study, one found that the combination of surgical masks and hand hygiene was less effective than hand hygiene alone, one found that the combination of surgical masks and hand hygiene was less effective than nothing, and one found that cloth masks were less effective than surgical masks.

Hiram Powers, the nineteenth-century neoclassical sculptor, keenly observed, “The eye is the window to the soul, the mouth the door. The intellect, the will, are seen in the eye; the emotions, sensibilities, and affections, in the mouth.” The best available scientific evidence suggests that the American people, credulously trusting their public-health officials, have been blocking the door to the soul without blocking the transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Mask objectivity

Jacob Sullum:

This week two Texas judges issued temporary restraining orders that allow public schools in Bexar and Dallas counties to require that staff and students wear face masks as a safeguard against COVID-19. The legal issue is whether Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning such mandates fits within his authority under the Texas Disaster Act of 1975. But the wisdom of requiring masks in schools depends on whether the public health benefits of that precaution outweigh the burdens it imposes on students and employees. On that point, the evidence is not nearly as clear as mandate enthusiasts imply.

Two important facts should inform decisions about face masks in schools.

First, COVID-19 infections among children and teenagers are rarely life-threatening. According to the “current best estimate” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the infection fatality rate (IFR) for people younger than 18 is 0.002 percent. By contrast, the CDC estimates that the IFR for COVID-19 among people 65 or older is 9 percent, 4,500 times as high. The estimated IFRs for other age groups fall between those two extremes: 0.05 percent for 18-to-49-year-olds and 0.6 percent for 50- to 64-year-olds.

Second, COVID-19 vaccines are currently available to all Americans 12 or older, and the vaccination rate is especially high among older Americans, which helps explain why the recent surge in cases has not been accompanied by a commensurate increase in deaths. For teachers and other staff members who are concerned about catching COVID-19 in school, vaccination sharply reduces the risk of infection and is even more effective at preventing severe cases. The same goes for students 12 or older.

Keeping those facts in mind, what is the evidence that face masks play an important role in preventing school-related COVID-19 outbreaks? In a New York Times opinion piece published on Tuesday, Duke University pediatrician Kanecia Zimmerman and We Studied One Million Students. This Is What We Learned About Masking.”

Here is how Zimmerman and Benjamin describe the results of their study, which was based on data from March through June 2021:

During that time, more than 7,000 children and adults acquired the coronavirus and attended school while infectious. Because of close contact with those cases, more than 40,000 people required quarantine. Through contact tracing and testing, however, we found only 363 additional children and adults acquired the coronavirus. We believe this low rate of transmission occurred because of the mask-on-mask school environment: Both the infected person and the close contact wore masks.

That belief is not actually supported by Zimmerman and Benjamin’s study. Since all the North Carolina public schools they studied had universal masking, there was no control group of schools without that requirement. It is therefore impossible to say whether the low rate of secondary transmission can be attributed to the mask policy. “Because North Carolina had a mask mandate for all K-12 schools,” Zimmerman and Benjamin concede, “we could not compare masked schools to unmasked schools.”

In lieu of a control group, Zimmerman and Benjamin cite a few COVID-19 outbreaks that they attribute to a lack of universal masking. Here are the cautionary examples they mention:

• This month in North Carolina, Mooresville Graded Schools and the Union Academy Charter School decided to require masks after “both experienced outbreaks during the first days of the new school year,” the ABC affiliate in Charlotte reports. An elementary school in the Mooresville system identified “nine positive cases,” while the charter school saw “at least 14 confirmed COVID-19 cases.”

• In Illinois last month, Springfield Public Schools began requiring masks during a summer session, citing “an increase in COVID-19 positive cases among SPS students and staff.”

• In May 2020, an Israeli public school had an outbreak that involved “153 students and 25 staff members” who “were confirmed as COVID-19-positive.” The outbreak was tied to an “extreme heatwave,” during which a face mask requirement was suspended, windows were closed, and “air-conditioning functioned continuously in all classes.” The authors of the report on the Israeli outbreak also note that “distancing among students and between students and teachers was not possible,” because the classrooms were “crowded.” The CDC cites “classroom crowding” and “poor ventilation” as factors in the outbreak.

These are all examples of outbreaks (or “an increase in COVID-19 positive cases”) that occurred when masking was optional. But they do not show that a lack of masking was the main reason for virus transmission. And the Israeli outbreak, which is commonly cited by mask-mandate advocates, is striking because it was unusual, even though other Israeli schools also did not require masks during the three-day heat wave.

Meanwhile, Zimmerman and Benjamin overlook examples of school systems that did not require masks but nevertheless saw minimal COVID-19 transmission.

In Florida, where many school districts did not require masks, the CDC found that less than 1 percent of students were infected in schools during the first semester after they reopened in August 2020. The CDC did report that school districts without mask mandates had a higher school-related infection rate: 1,667 vs. 1,171 per 100,000 students. But the study notes that smaller districts were less likely to require masks, and they also “had a higher proportion of students attending in-person instruction,” which likewise was “positively correlated with the student case rate.” And even in districts without mandates, just 1.7 percent of students were infected at school.

When England reopened schools in August 2020, they did not require face masks. Public Health England identified 969 outbreaks, or about one for every 25 schools. The outbreaks affected 2 percent of primary schools and 10 percent of secondary schools. In response to a geographically representative survey, 100 primary schools and 79 secondary schools reported 2,314 cases, or an average of about 13 per school. In primary schools that experienced outbreaks, 0.84 percent of students were infected; the rate for secondary schools was 1.2 percent. Teachers were more likely to be infected and more likely to transmit the virus than students.

Both of these studies were conducted at a time when vaccines were not available to staff or students. Now that 70 percent of American adults have been at least partly vaccinated and vaccines are available to students 12 or older, we should see similar or lower rates of school-related infection, even allowing for the greater transmissibility of the delta variant.*

“Although outbreaks in schools can occur,” the CDC says, “multiple studies have shown that transmission within school settings is typically lower than—or at least similar to—levels of community transmission, when prevention strategies are in place in schools.” Regarding mask requirements specifically, it says “most studies that have shown success in limiting transmission in schools have [involved schools that] required that staff only or staff and students wear masks as one of the school’s prevention strategies.” That gloss implies that some studies found schools had “success in limiting transmission” even without mask mandates or with mandates that did not apply to students.

The CDC, which is now urging “indoor masking for all individuals age 2 years and older” in schools and child care facilities, cites six studies to support its conclusion that mask mandates are crucial: a preliminary report on Zimmerman and Benjamin’s North Carolina research; a study concluding that reopening schools in Italy, where students were required to wear masks, did not appear to drive the second COVID-19 wave in that country; a study of Chicago schools, which also required masks, finding “a lower attack rate for students and staff participating in in-person learning than for the community overall”; a CDC study that reported “limited secondary transmission” of COVID-19 in Rhode Island child care programs that required adults to wear masks; a CDC study that found 6 percent of child care facilities in Washington, D.C., with a similar requirement experienced an outbreak; and a CDC report of “minimal” COVID-19 transmission at a New Jersey school “after implementation of a comprehensive mitigation strategy” that included “universal masking.”

In their Times piece, Zimmerman and Benjamin cite CDC data from Utah, Missouri, and Wisconsin. The Utah study found that “mask adherence was high” and that “COVID-19 incidence among students and staff members was lower than in the county overall.” According to the Missouri study, COVID-19 transmission was “much lower” in schools than in the general community. The schools had adopted precautions that included “mandating use of face masks, physical distancing in classrooms, increasing ventilation with outdoor air, identification of close contacts, and following CDC isolation and quarantine guidance.” In Wisconsin, “reported student mask-wearing was high,” and “transmission risk within schools appeared low.”

These studies show that mask mandates are consistent with low rates of COVID-19 transmission. But contrary to what the CDC implies, they do not show that mask mandates are necessary to keep infection rates low, which would require comparing outcomes in otherwise similar schools with and without mandates.

In December, based on data from Georgia, the CDC reported that “COVID-19 incidence was 37% lower in schools that required teachers and staff members to use masks,” which was similar to the difference associated with “improved ventilation.” But while the incidence of infection was 21 percent lower in schools that also required students to wear masks, that difference was not statistically significant.

In a May 21 preprint study, Brown University economist Emily Oster and four other researchers analyze COVID-19 data from Florida, New York, and Massachusetts for the 2020–21 school year. “We do not find any correlations with mask mandates,” Oster et al. report. But they note that “all rates are lower in the spring, after teacher vaccination is underway.” The authors caution that their study “does not imply masks are ineffective, as these results focus only on masking in schools and do not take community behavior into consideration.” They also note that they considered “mask mandates and not actual masking behavior.”

Zimmerman and Benjamin say it is “now clear” that “universal masking is linked to lower spread” in schools; that “schools that do not require masks will have more coronavirus transmission”; that “if we send children to school without masks, we increase their risk of acquiring Covid-19”; that “masking helps prevent spread among unvaccinated people in schools”; that “universal masking is a close second” to vaccination as a way of preventing school outbreaks; and that “universal masking in schools can save lives.” But the evidence they cite to support these assertions is inconclusive at best.

Assuming that universal masking in schools does make a difference (which it might!), it is by no means clear that the benefits outweigh the costs. The data from Florida and England indicate that COVID-19 transmission in schools was a minor problem even without mask mandates and even before vaccination was possible. Given the low risks that children face from COVID-19, the low infection rates even in schools that don’t require masks, and the fact that vaccination is readily available to adults and teenagers, the benefits of forcing kids to cover their faces all day, whether or not they are vaccinated, are likely to be small.

The costs, meanwhile, are more substantial than mandate supporters typically acknowledge. The inconvenience and discomfort caused by mask requirements aggravate the unpleasantness of environments that were stressful, boring, and restrictive long before anyone had heard of COVID-19. Masks interfere with  communication, learning, and social interaction. And they unfairly burden children with the responsibility of preventing infections that primarily threaten adults, who can better protect themselves by getting vaccinated. To justify those costs would require more evidence than mandate advocates have been able to muster.

From a COVID survivor

Tom Woods:

To the Person Who Gave Me the Virus:

I have no idea who you are, but our paths almost surely crossed last month in Las Vegas.

Even now I wouldn’t change a thing about that trip, by the way, which was a blast. The existence of the virus, it’s true, made my life a fraction of one percent more dangerous than it was before. But since I don’t have any mental disorders, I hadn’t calibrated my risk tolerance so precisely that such a tiny change would make me radically alter my life.

Naturally if you knew you were sick, you should have stayed home. Of all the advice they’ve given — mask wearing, social distancing, and all the rest — staying home when you’re sick would do by far the most good, yet we hear it urged upon us the least.

At the same time, The Hill reports that you can easily confuse the symptoms of the virus for allergies, so it’s entirely possible not to be aware that you’re contagious. I see no reason to assume bad will on your part.

Every time I leave my house I am taking a risk. We all are. I don’t blame you for the constraints imposed by reality.
If the chance of being struck by lightning increased tenfold tomorrow, this would not affect my behavior in any way. Not being neurotic, I don’t live my life as if the present rate of lightning strikes is precisely as high as I can tolerate.

It has become almost impossible to have a rational conversation about any of this. For one thing, most people are shockingly misinformed. Ask the average person what the likelihood is of someone in his age cohort needing to be hospitalized for COVID, and his answer will be off by a factor of 10, if not 100. Guaranteed.

For that matter, I cannot believe how many people think masks are accomplishing anything. The laughable “studies” on masks generally assume what they set out to prove, and/or confine themselves to strangely arbitrary timeframes, before explosions in COVID spread.

Dozens of countries have seen their COVID charts go almost vertical after (not necessarily immediately after, but after) introducing large-scale masking, which is what the charts would look like if masks accomplished absolutely nothing. These places are ignored, because nobody is told about them.

Meanwhile, there have been essentially zero COVID deaths in Sweden over the past month, and the rest of Scandinavia is also doing very well despite very little masking or other restrictions.

The world acts as if these countries do not exist. As usual with the “you’re to blame for the virus” people, success stories like these are of no interest, because there’s nobody they can demonize — and demonizing people is their favorite pastime.

The case of Nepal is interesting, too. After a lockdown that ended in July 2020, they decided essentially to proceed as normal. They’re a poor country, and they chose the radical, unheard-of approach of overturning a policy that would have had them starving to death.

And guess what?

They’re doing fine.

“Public health officials” were stumped, but at this point who can be surprised by that? What we laughingly call our “public health” establishment has made fools of themselves during this entire fiasco.

Nepal is at 340 deaths per million. Compare that to locked-down countries like the UK (1909), Spain (1756), Belgium (2170), or Peru (5883).

Back in the United States, the Sun Belt spike of 2020 came down with zero behavioral changes of any kind. The “COVID is your fault” people are too determined to blame someone to show any curiosity about this, even though it absolutely should evoke curiosity.

COVID comes and goes seasonally and regionally, and blows its way past our silly masks and six-foot floor stickers.

With my friend Tim Scott, I created a website where people can test their ability to determine which alleged mitigation measures accomplished what. If they work, it should be easy and obvious to choose which line on a graph represents a state or country that implemented it and which line represents one that did not.

So go ahead. Try your hand at it. If any of the insanity accomplished anything, it’ll be a breeze: CovidChartsQuiz.com. …

Now it’s true: I was definitely laid up in bed for a while. But not a single kid should have missed a single basketball practice to keep me from getting sick. Imagine the selfishness involved in that kind of demand.

Screw that.

And nor should you, mysterious Las Vegas person, feel sorry for me. I don’t want you staying in your house! I don’t want you refusing to live! I’m glad you were out living your life, enjoying things that make life worth living. Merely preserving your biological existence is unworthy of a human being.

This is especially so when we’ve been given no indication of precisely what would constitute an all-clear. It’s all arbitrariness piled upon more anti-scientific arbitrariness.
We should all be inspired by the words of Lord Sumption in the UK:

“What sort of life do we think we are protecting? There is more to life than the avoidance of death. Life is a drink with friends. Life is a crowded football match or a live concert. Life is a family celebration with children and grandchildren. Life is companionship, an arm around one’s back, laughter or tears shared at less than two meters. These things are not just optional extras. They are life itself. They are fundamental to our humanity, to our existence as social beings. Of course death is permanent, whereas joy may be temporarily suspended. But the force of that point depends on how temporary it really is.”

Thank you, Las Vegas person, for refusing to be inhuman, for refusing to be an automaton, and for saying yes to those things that bring us joy and make our lives meaningful.

How to reach the vaccine holdouts

Grace Curley:

The Biden administration is desperate for some fresh ideas as they attempt to convince more Americans to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Between White House press secretary Jen Psaki, Dr Anthony Fauci and Dr Rochelle Walensky, we are constantly hearing about the White House’s latest creative ways to encourage people to get vaccinated.

The administration seems eager to push the notion that all of the vaccine holdouts are Trump supporters. Unfortunately for them, recent studies suggest otherwise. According to Forbes, polling analysis by Kaiser Family Foundation shows that ‘the “wait and see” group, by contrast, is more evenly divided politically — 39 percent are Democrats and 41 percent Republicans — and are slightly more likely to be black or Hispanic (22 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic, versus 5 percent and 11 percent in the “definitely not group”), though 72 percent are still between the ages of 18 and 49.’

Putting this pesky data aside, Jen Psaki proudly boasted about how the administration has run PSAs on The Deadliest Catch and works with NASCAR and Country Music TV. Somehow that fool-proof plan to reach out to the Neanderthals fell flat. Go figure.

Masks vs. vaccinations

New York University Prof. Marc Siegel:

President Biden wants 70% of American adults vaccinated against Covid-19 by July 4. It’s an achievable goal but suddenly looks more daunting, even though plenty of doses are available. Demand is slackening now that those most eager for vaccinations have already gotten them.

If Mr. Biden wants to encourage Americans to get the shots, he should change his attitude toward masks. Last week he said wearing masks in public is a “patriotic duty.” He continues to do so, even outdoors, even though he is vaccinated and therefore at almost no risk of either contracting the coronavirus or transmitting it to others. Federal mandates remain in place requiring masks in airports, national parks and public transit, among other places.

Think about the messages that sends: If you get vaccinated, you’ll be afforded virtually no relief from the pandemic’s most persistent burden—the social and legal pressure to cover your face in public—which has lingered for more than a year. If you don’t get vaccinated, society will keep trying to protect you from infection by imposing discomfort on everyone. And the authorities, at least at the federal level, seem to be in no hurry for the pandemic to end.

Meanwhile, it is in the process of ending. Case rates, hospitalizations and deaths are down all across the country. In California, the case rate is 4 per 100,000 with a 1% positive test rate. New York’s numbers are almost as good. A combination of natural and vaccinated immunity—60% of the adult population will have received at least one shot by the end of this week—is bringing this virus to its knees.

A more effective strategy would be to relieve the public of ineffective draconian restrictions. The president should announce that all federal mask mandates will end effective May 28, in time for Memorial Day weekend, and he should encourage states, localities and private institutions to do the same.

This would send a clear message to the vaccine-resistant: It’s your responsibility to protect yourself by getting your shots. The message to everyone: Vaccines work, and it’s time to get back to normal.


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