Monday, August 3, 2020

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    To mask or not to mask: look for the science

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    Men donned wooden masks and numerous layers of sweatshirts and ponchos then proceeded to hit each other with whips as they danced around the town square.
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    By Dr. Ray Andrew

    Most Americans are concerned about coronavirus. Most have good intentions. Rightfully concerned about local risks, our own county council instituted a mask mandate in public whenever individuals are unable to stay six feet apart.

    A man wears a mask
    A man wears a mask during the 1918 influenza pandemic. File photo

    As with all issues of national importance, Americans disagree on the best means of minimizing their risk. Some options are benign, while others devastate those they are purported to protect. America has dealt with lockdowns, travel bans, forced business closures, quarantines of healthy people, social distancing, and now, face coverings for healthy people. All of this has consequences. In Moab, some decades-old businesses have closed and others are on the verge of bankruptcy due to restrictions on how many patrons they are allowed to serve. This is in spite of zero local hospitalizations and zero deaths.

    But masks are different. They hurt no one. Compliance with this mandate isn’t going to put locals out of business or single mothers out of work. Wearing a mask is simple. It shows we care for others’ safety and health. For these and other reasons, many feel strongly about wearing masks. For different reasons, others feel equally strongly about not wearing them. In last week’s The Times-Independent, George Cheney and Sally Planalp said it right: “It’s unfortunate that masks have been politicized…” This is supposed to be about a deadly virus, which makes it a medical, not a political issue. Unfortunately, the author duo finished that sentence, “…when wearing them would benefit everyone.”

    This is not the first time we have heard that mask-wearing is universally beneficial. This claim is repeated so often that only a fool wouldn’t believe it and comply.

    The predicate for this assertion is that there is scientific proof that cloth coverings prevent transmission of coronavirus from healthy carriers and pre-symptomatic people to uninfected people.

    But there is no such evidence in any randomized controlled medical trial (RCT) for coronavirus or any other virus. We expect the experts to do their homework before making public health recommendations, but they didn’t. Everyone, including our own county council, assumes that somebody else did the research and proved the efficacy of face coverings.

    Facing a vacuum of scientific evidence, people therefore rely on reason, emotional appeals, fear tactics, and the force of law to push the face-covering agenda: “It’s patriotic.” “Do the right thing.” “It’s for the common good.” “It shows respect.” “It sets a good example.” “Some covering is better than nothing.” “Someone’s relative got sick because someone else didn’t wear a mask.” “The Japanese don’t get sick because they wear masks.” “All the experts agree that masks save lives.”

    Many people find these arguments convincing enough for them to wear masks everywhere they go. There is nothing wrong with that. However, none of these is a compelling argument for using the force of law to require an entire population to cover their faces with pieces of cloth. This is not a sound basis for public health policy.

    Whereas experts mean well, history is littered with examples of experts being wrong on every subject, including personal and public health. Even in 2020, they have been wrong on coronavirus more often than they have been right. Dr. Fauci told us, “This is not a major threat to the people of the United States.” Projections of infections, deaths, and medical resource needs have been all over the map, “astronomically wrong” according to Stanford University epidemiologist Dr. John Ioannidis.

    So, when experts and authorities say everyone needs to wear face coverings, ask for the data. Anything else is irrelevant when it comes to mandating medical interventions.

    Unlike the authorities, Denis Rancourt, Ph.D., actually did his homework. Pouring through the scientific evidence regarding mask-wearing and viruses, he concluded, “It makes no difference if everybody … is wearing a mask; it makes no difference if one is and others aren’t … There’s no reduction, period. There are no exceptions. All the studies that have been tabulated, looked at, published, I was not able to find any exceptions, if you constrain yourself to verified outcomes.”

    St. Mary’s Hospital did its homework, too, and has posters all over the building, stating: “There is no evidence that masks protect people who are not sick.”

    The irony of mask mandates is that they can only increase, not decrease coronavirus. Masks cause people to re-breathe their own air. This means they are breathing less oxygen, which weakens the immune cells (CD4+ T-lymphocytes) that fight viruses.

    Each of us is free to believe science or not. If you believe face coverings are the solution to this pandemic, wear one. But spare your neighbors the shaming, virtue-signaling, vigilantism, discrimination, and angry shouts across the supermarket aisle. If masks are effective, you don’t need to worry about mask-less people infecting you. You don’t need to fear for your life, lose your temper, get into a fight, or call the police: Your mask is your protection.

    On the other hand, if your analysis of the science does not support covering your face, don’t. Just be respectful of those who do. They feel as adamant about wearing them as you do about not wearing them.

    Meanwhile, strengthen your immune system. Look out for your neighbor’s needs. Be kind to those who don’t feel as you do. Avoid treating healthy humans like lepers. And appeal to those in power to make decisions based on facts, not fear; science, not emotion; data, not expert opinion.

    Andrew is a physician who practices in Moab.

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