Coronavirus and woman in mask
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Virologist ponders the ‘mask wars’

Chris von Csefalvay writes for City Journal about the political debate surrounding face masks.

As states begin to reopen and America tries to recreate normalcy, masks have replaced social distancing as the new moral statement. Just as adherence to lockdowns was framed by many as a sign of virtue—with some arguing that those who refused to abide by the lockdown orders should forfeit medical care for Covid-related indications—masks have become a face-borne signal of righteousness. As a virologist, I find this perplexing, considering the limited evidence in favor of masks.

More than anything, the scientific rationale behind masks appears to be that wearing them does little harm. Countervailing benefit need not be particularly significant to justify a public-health intervention. Indeed, a veritable cottage industry of homemade and custom masks has sprung up in the wake of Covid-19, many of questionable quality and efficacy. The viral particles that spread Covid-19 are tiny bundles of proteins and nucleic acids, about 0.1 micron in size—or one hundred-thousandth of a centimeter. The CDC generously describes the evidence in favor of cloth face masks’ efficacy as “emerging,” but by the standards we use to assess clinical interventions, the efficacy of masks, especially nonsurgical masks, is undetermined. Clearly, reducing the speed and pressure of droplets from sneezing or coughing that spread infections, as those of the coronavirus responsible for Covid-19 do, is likely to have some effect, but how much remains to be seen.

Understanding of the mask issue has been considerably clouded by unreliable and badly presented evidence. …

… The paper fails not only in its scientific methodology but also in its fundamental grasp of facts and evidence, alleging, among other claims, that, as of April 17, the only difference between New York City and the rest of the United States was a mask mandate in the former. This is demonstrably false. …

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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