Some of our health experts are recommending mask-wearing based on science. Well, I was curious, what do science and research say about wearing masks? Do masks prevent the spread of viruses? Are masks safe to wear? Who should be wearing masks? How do I wear a mask? I will dive into all of those questions in this article, so keep on reading.
What Is A Face Mask?
A face mask is a loosely fitting mask that covers your nose and mouth. A face mask prevents large sprays and droplets when coughing or sneezing. The face mask differs from an N95 respirator, which is a tighter fitting mask. N95 masks prevent a person from inhaling smaller particles, such as viruses or bacteria, that are airborne. Below is a table describing what different masks are designed for:
Who Should Wear A Face Mask?
According to JAMA, face masks should only be used by people who have symptoms such as coughing or sneezing. They also state that “Face masks should not be worn by healthy individuals to protect themselves from acquiring respiratory infection because there is no evidence to suggest that face masks worn by healthy individuals are effective in preventing people from becoming ill.”
How Do You Wear a Face Mask?
The proper way to wear a face mask is the following:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (or use 60% alcohol)
- Place face mask over nose and mouth
- Make sure there are no gaps between the face mask and the face
- Avoid touching mask while wearing
- If you touch your face mask, wash your hands
- Remove mask without touching the front of the face mask
- Discard into a closed bin
- Wash hands again
This list is the proper protocol to use a face mask to prevent the spread of infection.
Does Wearing a Face Mask Help Prevent The Spread of Infection?
There are many randomized controlled trial studies and meta-analysis reviews of these studies in peer-reviewed journals. Many of these studies show that face masks do not work to prevent the spread of viruses. Researchgate.net put together a list of RCT studies and meta-analysis reviews about face mask use. The conclusion by the researcher was,
“No RCT study with verified outcome shows a benefit for HCW or community members in households to wearing a mask or respirator. There is no such study. There are no exceptions. Likewise, no study exists that shows a benefit from a broad policy to wear masks in public. Masks and respirators do not work.”
The CDC put out a study in March 2021 looking at how mask mandates affected the daily case and death rates of Covid-19. According to the article summary, mandating masks was associated with a decrease in daily Covid-19 case and death rates within 20 days of implementation. But what they fail to talk about is what that decrease is?
When you read the article published on the CDC website, here is what the research says. They looked at numbers from the county level in the United States. From those numbers, they looked at a reference period before mandates were issued. Then, they looked at the numbers after the mandates were issued. This is what they found-
“Mask mandates were associated with a 0.7 percentage point decrease (p = 0.03) in daily COVID-19 death growth rates 1–20 days after implementation and decreases of 1.0, 1.4, 1.6, and 1.9 percentage points 21–40, 41–60, 61–80, and 81–100 days, respectively, after implementation (p<0.01 for all).”
This is one of the most comprehensive looks at the numbers from counties all over our country that mandated mask-wearing. With these mandates, we had, at most, less than a 2% difference. This small drop was in both cases and, more importantly, deaths. Think to yourself, if masks prevented the spread, wouldn’t we see a more significant drop in the numbers?
How About Professionals Using Face Masks and Preventing Infections?
I always like to visit the Cochrane Library to look at what they find in research. Those of you who saw my video on, What Does Science Say About the Flu Shot vs. Vitamin D, will know that Cochrane is the gold standard in the medical community when it comes to the analysis of research.
They have an article on surgical face masks for preventing surgical wound infection. They searched all the studies on this topic. The outcome of the analysis showed that wearing face masks during surgery neither increases nor decreases the number of wound infections.
So think about this, we are talking about medical professionals who use personal protective equipment regularly. These professionals know the proper protocol on how to use face masks. And it still didn’t make a difference! What is the likelihood that the general public will help prevent the spread of infection with face masks?
Do Face Masks Prevent The Spread of Covid-19?
In April 2020, researchers in South Korea studied whether cloth face masks or surgical masks prevented the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They took four patients who tested positive for Covid-19. They put them in a controlled environment.
They had each patient put on a cloth mask, cough five times into a petri dish. Then they put on a surgical mask and did the same thing. And one more time without any covering. A different petri dish was used to collect each sample. The researchers swabbed the surfaces of the masks on both the outside and inside and cultured them, as well.
Guess what they found? Yep, all the Petri dishes had the virus. Now here is the interesting thing, all the swabs from the outside of the masks were positive for the virus. However, most of the swabs from the inside of the masks were negative. The researchers explained that the virus most likely escaped due to the air leakage around the mask.
So you can see that both surgical and cloth masks don’t seem to prevent the spread of this virus. Also, the fit of the mask is essential. Loose masks like cloth and surgical masks don’t seem to keep the virus from getting out. Or the virus is so small it is getting forced through the mask to the outside.
A new research study out of Denmark in March 2021 looked at the effectiveness of the mask mandate in preventing the spread of Covid-19. This study was the gold standard, randomized controlled trial of mask-wearing. Two groups of participants were randomly put into groups, one wearing masks and the other no masks. The masked group was given 50 surgical masks along with instructions on proper use. Both groups were encouraged to follow recommended social distancing rules.
Here is what the study found-
“Infection with SARS-CoV-2 occurred in 42 participants recommended masks (1.8%) and 53 control participants (2.1%). The between-group difference was −0.3 percentage point (95% CI, −1.2 to 0.4 percentage point; P = 0.38) (odds ratio, 0.82 [CI, 0.54 to 1.23]; P = 0.33).”
In plain English, there was really no statistical difference between the two groups. Wearing a mask did not reduce the ability to catch or spread this virus. There are limitations to this study because it is very difficult to conduct this kind of study with people. The authors will admit that the results are inconclusive for this study, but the conclusion was that wearing a surgical mask did not reduce the infection rate from this virus for the wearer.
Could Wearing A Mask Be Bad For You?
I found a study in the Journal of Biological Engineering that showed that wearing masks can impact your performance of activities. The research showed that wearing a respirator mask does interfere with your performance, both physically and mentally.
Here are the things they said wearing a mask interferes with:
- Regulating your body temperature
- Feelings of well-being
I find that most people do not like wearing masks; it is hard to breathe, it makes you hot, and if you wear glasses, they fog up. It is hard to talk to people through masks. And let’s be honest, when someone sees you wearing a mask, it causes them to shy away from you because they are scared of catching something.
An article from Stanford University talked about facemask in the Covid-19 era. The author of the article looked at a health hypothesis that facemasks might be not only ineffective but not safe to wear. This article looks at the efficacy of facemasks like we have talked about above. But it also dives into some of the negative heaths effects that masking can present.
Most people will argue what the harm from wearing a mask is. Well, there are definite physiological and psychological effects that lead to health consequences. See table 1 for a summary of those effects and consequences.
Let me quote the article-
“Wearing facemasks has been demonstrated to have substantial adverse physiological and psychological effects. These include hypoxia, hypercapnia, shortness of breath, increased acidity and toxicity, activation of fear and stress response, rise in stress hormones, immunosuppression, fatigue, headaches, decline in cognitive performance, predisposition for viral and infectious illnesses, chronic stress, anxiety and depression. Long-term consequences of wearing facemask can cause health deterioration, developing and progression of chronic diseases and premature death.”
As you can see, it isn’t as simple as just saying to wear a mask; what could it hurt. As you can see, there are consequences for every decision we make in life.
My concern is we have kids wearing masks all day long in school. How is that affecting them? I don’t want my kids to be the test subjects of that experiment.
Conclusion: Should You Wear a Mask?
Wearing a mask is a personal decision. If you are coughing, sneezing, or have a fever and need to go out, then the answer is yes. If you are healthy, without any symptoms, I would say the science and the medical community say no.
The policy of making healthy people wear masks has no scientific validity to it. It is unfortunate that “experts” and policymakers are making these rules that don’t make any sense at all. The decisions of policies regarding this virus are based on fear and not based on any reliable data. Why conduct research studies? I hope it is to collect data and make the best-educated decisions we can make for society. Will it always be right to use science and research? No, but it is better than making decisions without any rhyme or reason.