March 29, 2023

In Brief: Maskaholism May Be Incurable

Recent responses to the Cochrane review suggest that there may be no cure for maskaholics.

COVID? Boy, that’s old and worn out news. Well, for most of us, that’s true. Others, however, cling to at least one particular change brought by the pandemic: masks. Jeffrey Anderson, president of the American Main Street Initiative, explains this religious dedication.

“Wearing masks in the community probably makes little or no difference.” Such was the verdict of a recent Cochrane review, a systematic assessment of all medical research on masks. How much should one trust this overarching study? Medical journals say that Cochrane reviews are “recognized worldwide as the highest standard in evidence-based healthcare,” are the “best single source of highest-quality systematic reviews,” and are “regarded as the final word in the medical debate on a topic.” One adds, “The main reason is that Cochrane reviews follow a common and specific methodology to limit bias.” If only the same could be said about the public-health officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Specifically, Cochrane found, “Wearing masks in the community probably makes little or no difference to the outcome of influenza-like illness (ILI)/COVID-19 like illness” — or “to the outcome of laboratory-confirmed influenza/SARS-CoV-2” — “compared to not wearing masks.” Moreover, “The use of a N95/P2 respirators compared to medical/surgical masks probably makes little or no difference for the outcome … of laboratory-confirmed influenza infection.” Each of these claims was made with “moderate certainty,” the second highest of four certainty classifications. (“Moderate certainty” means that “the true effect is likely to be close to the estimate of the effect.”)

The mask advocates’ grasping-at-straws response to this review has been that Cochrane doesn’t know what it’s doing (despite its “worldwide” reputation for providing “the highest standard” of medical research). Or they say that Cochrane produced a fine study, but people didn’t read it correctly. Or randomized controlled trials aren’t to be trusted when it comes to masks (RCTs are universally considered the gold standard in medical research). Or we need more and better RCTs on masks, though 16 have already been conducted on surgical or cloth masks, none of which has provided compelling evidence that they work.

The mask advocates’ refusal to recognize that medical science does not support their steadfast belief is truly remarkable. Clearly, something more is going on here than a genuine debate about which health-care measures work.

Anderson posits that perhaps it’s just that “progressives don’t like it when they can’t control something.” Masks offer that illusion of control. “There’s also the matter of identity,” he says, in that masks symbolize that “we believe in Health.”

Reality, however, is simply that “masks’ ineffectiveness has remained relatively constant over time.” Even Cochrane published a review in 2020 concluding as much, though that review received almost no attention by design.

At length, Anderson goes on to discuss how masks can even increase the spread of a virus, as well as how unpersuaded the “mask zealots” remain in the face of the evidence, even twisting the science or flat out misrepresenting it. He concludes:

It should be greatly disturbing, in light of the evidence, that so many hospitals and doctor’s offices continue to force patients to wear masks. It should make one wonder how many other times medical personnel don’t follow the medical studies on which they supposedly rely. Yet, New York Times readers aren’t disturbed at all but take comfort in mask mandates. Among the readers’ ten favorite comments was one that says, “The [Cochrane] findings are basically nonsense. Common sense prevails here. … I was in a hospital today. Everyone has to wear a mask.”

In his recent City Journal piece on the 2023 Cochrane review, John Tierney asks, “Can anything persuade the maskaholics in the public-health establishment and the public to give up their obsession?” The answer, plainly, is no. Their faith transcends reason.

Read the whole thing here.

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