Monday, July 15, 2024
HomeCOVID-19Never mind the evidence, carry on masking

Never mind the evidence, carry on masking


IF SOMEONE tried to sell you something that did not work to solve a problem you did not have and which had so many drawbacks you would not want it anyway, your response would most likely be: ‘You’re having a laugh.’ Sadly, that has happened to us, in the shape of lockdowns, social distancing, vaccine mandates and face masks.

Thankfully lockdown and social distancing are over and, if the evidence is heeded, will never return. Vaccines have not yet gone away but with the copious evidence for harms up to and including death, nobody in their right mind would take one now.

As for face masks, there was no evidence to support their introduction, further evidence was accumulated during the Covid years and most recently, a gold-standard Cochrane review concluded that there was an absence of evidence supporting the efficacy of face masks in preventing the spread of respiratory infections. Case closed, or so you may think.

Not quite. Medscapeno stranger to these pages, the website which provides ‘comprehensive clinical information and resources essential to physicians and healthcare professionals’, has struck again, this time in favour of continued wearing of facemasks. The title of a recent article poses the question: ‘Is Masking Still Best Practice to Reduce Covid-19 Transmission in Clinical Settings?’ You know, given Medscape’s position on all things pandemicky, that the answer is going to be ‘yes’.

The article wastes no time in giving you the conclusions. In fact, the opening sentence is: ‘Preventive measures, including masks (N95 respirators, surgical, and cloth), are recommended to reduce risk for Covid-19.’ 

The Medscape article summarises a recent ‘living, rapid review’ in Annals of Internal Medicine which is billed as a ‘major update’ on ‘masks for prevention of SARS-CoV-2 in health care and community settings’. The article refers to a previous review in June 2020 ‘which found insufficient evidence to determine the effects of masks on SARS-CoV-2 infection’, but makes no reference to the recent Cochrane review which concluded: ‘Pooled results of RCTs [randomised controlled trials] did not show a clear reduction in respiratory viral infection with the use of medical/surgical masks. There were no clear differences between the use of medical/surgical masks compared with N95/P2 respirators in healthcare workers when used in routine care to reduce respiratory viral infection.’

The evidence against the use of face masks is overwhelming and cumulative but, like the last families to leave the Klondike, some seem determined to carry on mining against the odds that they are ever going to strike gold. In the case of the Annals of Internal Medicine article, the miners have most certainly not struck gold.

To be fair to the authors of the original review, they do not overplay their results and refer only to three new studies all of which show ‘small’ reductions in Covid transmission, and one of these was not statistically significant. The results show only that masks and N95 respirators ‘may be associated’ with a small reduction in infection and conclude that ‘updated evidence suggests that masks may be associated with a small reduction in risk for SARS-Cov-2 infection’.

The operative words above are ‘small’ and ‘may’. Even if there is a small reduction, it should be borne in mind that the risks from Covid are small to negligible, masks lead to manifest harms, they are polluting the environment and are costing millions of pounds. Also, if they ‘may’ lead to a small reduction, surely it is eminently possible that they may not. Well, Annals of Internal Medicine does not think so and, in the same issue as the above review it publishes an opinion piece titled: ‘For patient safety, it is not time to take off masks in health care settings.’ Like much of the rhetoric on masks, this is an evidence-free polemic which mainly relies on how people feel safe wearing face masks and prefer to do so, meaning we should all follow suit.

The continued face mask propaganda is nothing less than a case of corporate gaslighting on a global scale, and it is working. Masks for schoolchildren have been made compulsory again in Chile to deal with another viral infection. China was the reference point for lockdowns. When the next pandemic is announced, will Chile become the reference point for face masks?

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Roger Watson
Roger Watson
Roger Watson is a Professor of Nursing.

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