Mask Recommendations Make Little to No Difference

A surgical mask like the ones used in the study being discussed (click for credit)

In the midst of this pandemic, most governments are requiring people to wear mask in public. I will start this by saying that I began wearing a mask early on in the pandemic, long before any mandates were made. I didn’t wear one because I thought it would be effective. Even a basic understanding of science tells us that standard masks provide little protection against the spread of a virus. Protecting yourself against a virus using a mask that is not made specifically for viruses is roughly equivalent to protecting your yard against mosquitoes by installing a chain-link fence.

However, a mask does reduce how many water droplets you spew into the air, and since those droplets can carry viruses, there is probably some small protective effect for those with whom you come into contact. I wore a mask early on simply to put others at ease. Now I wear one because I think people must follow a society’s rules (unless they are immoral) in order to be a functional member of that society. If the mandates were lifted, however, I would still wear a mask in public until the pandemic dies out, simply because some people think it protects them, and I want to put such people at ease.

Having said that, there has been one study that concluded mask mandates reduced the rise of COVID-19 infections by a tiny amount. However, the study couldn’t conclude that the masks were the cause of the tiny decline. Most likely, when a mask mandate is instituted, people become naturally more cautious, limiting their social interactions, being more aware of social distancing, etc. Thus, it’s possible that the masks had nothing to do with the small reduction in COVID-19 cases.

My publisher sent me a recent study that tries to address the question a bit more effectively than the study linked above. It didn’t test masks directly, because it would be impractical to follow people around making sure they were wearing their masks. However, the study gave 3,030 people a set of recommendations for protecting themselves against COVID-19. They included things like social distancing, etc., as well as the recommendation to wear a mask, 50 surgical masks, and instructions on how to use them. The study also gave 2,994 people the same set of recommenstions, minus the mask recommendation, the masks, and their instructions. After 1 month, they tested people for COVID-19 antiboides. This was all during a time when their communites did not issue any mask recommendations or mandates.

The results showed that slighly fewer people in the mask group contracted COVID-19 than those in the no-mask group. However, because the number of people who contracted COVID-19 during the study was small, the difference between the groups could have been the result of random chance. In the end, the authors use basic statistics to conclude that the mask group was somewhere between 46% less likely to get the disease and 23% more likely to get the disease. As they say:

The recommendation to wear surgical masks to supplement other public health measures did not reduce the SARS-CoV-2 infection rate among wearers by more than 50% in a community with modest infection rates, some degree of social distancing, and uncommon general mask use. The data were compatible with lesser degrees of self-protection.

Now, of course, we have no idea what percentage of the people in the mask group actually followed the recommendation, but the study made it pretty easy to do so. Combined with the study I linked at the beginning of the post, I think we can conclusively say that if the typically-used masks provide protection against COVID-19, it is small. Thus, when “experts” say nonsense like this:

If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really think in the next four, six, eight weeks, we could bring this epidemic under control.

We know they are not using science to inform their opinion.

17 thoughts on “Mask Recommendations Make Little to No Difference”

  1. But is that still addressing the idea that my mask protects you? I still feel the results you posted are only addressing whether wearing a mask protects the wearer.

    1. Well, the first study looks at large populations that must wear a mask, so that seems to address both the wearer as well as others. It sees a tiny protective effect. The second study is definitely looking only at the wearer, since there were no general mask recommendations or mandates at the time. Thus, most other people were not wearing masks. It sees what might be a tiny protective effect. Either way, the effect is tiny.

  2. Have you read any of the studies citing lengthy mask wearing causes bacterial pneumonia?? Here is a doctors tweet but I don’t know where the studies are. I have heard this from physicians I know too… worth investigating. I know many people that have had to wear a mask at work that have had nasty sinus infections caused by bacteria and fungus. Their MD told them it was from their mask. Some have tried to switch to a ventilated mask to survive the rigors of mask wearing on the job. I also have two very close friends that have been advised by their cardiologists not to wear a mask because it would contribute to triggering a cardiac event due to heart issues they have had in the past.

    From Dr. Thomas Binder MD

    There is the danger of a “second wave” of “COVID-19” by the induction of bacterial and fungal pneumonia by facemasks just as the second wave of the Spanish flu was induced highly likely. Masks in public spaces must be prohibited immediately.

    Dr, Binder Also claims that a “second wave” of a respiratory virus is a biological impossibility.

    I think people can find “science” to back up whatever they want to believe. There are other studies besides the Danish study that say face masks are ineffective. Mandatory mask wearing has taken quite a toll on children. I know that because I have 8 small grandchildren . You can’t see people’s faces social interaction is very limited … I believe we’ve done great damage.

    I think our freedoms are being limited in a dangerous sort of way.

    I don’t wear a mask in public anymore but I used to long before masks were even mandated. Then I spent the months of quarantine researching. I now just try to keep my distance from people especially the elderly so as not to make them uncomfortable and I quickly and graciously leave anywhere that tells me I have to have on a mask. I think that’s only happened once.Latest studies say there is no asymptomatic spread so I would never leave the house if I felt ill or had a fever. I teach nine different science classes to homeschoolers two days a week including four that use your textbooks which we have enjoyed immensely over the years. None of the students wear masks. We spread the tables out more than we used to and people have been extra sensitive not to come if they are sick or symptomatic with anything. We’ve had no problems. You would think we would’ve been super spreaders if there was any risk due to non-mask wearing. We started meeting in August.

    1. I don’t know of any studies that indicate a relationship between mask use and bacterial or fungal pneumonia. I know there was a Facebook post that claimed it, but as far as I know, it’s not true.

      1. Doctor, I use the mask for the same reason you do, to set people at ease. I have noted that when forced to wear it constantly such as on flights, I come down with sinus and lung problems. Asthma attacks, a sinus infection, some fluid in the lungs. My only take on a mask is it makes a very good incubator for things we do not want in us. walk in beauty

  3. Masks offer acute protection. They are not intended to be a lifestyle. It does a disservice to our God designed immune systems to go about daily life in masks. The same way washing your hands is commendable in certain situations, but works against you when you do it every five minutes, non stop, all day. Doing this or even wearing medical gloves all day is doing a disservice to you (and your childrens) innate systems. We need to speak up and end all mask mandates now. Our personal medical choices should be in our own hands.

  4. Dr. Wile,
    I’ve just read the second study you mention and some of the comments posted beneath it via the link you provided and I have a few concerns. I can hardly claim to grasp every facet of what was being said, but it seems to me that the study wasn’t necessarily saying that mask wearing had no effect or even that people shouldn’t be wearing them. I can’t tell if the study was peer reviewed, and there was concern in the comment section, populated by doctors and experts as far as I could tell, that the study was being used by certain groups to make a blanket argument against all public safety measures. Obviously I hold you in too high regard to lump you in with those less reputable people, but I would appreciate some clarification on what your intent was in bringing this to the attention of your readers. I have nothing but respect for you and I put great stock in what you say, and I would never accuse you of intentionally or unintentionally harming people so please don’t misunderstand my own intentions in asking this question. I have watched the testimonials and read the accounts of doctors and nurses on the frontlines of this fight and have been deeply disturbed at tales and videos of people drenched in sweat, gasping for breath, afraid and in terrible pain. More disturbing still is the increasing number of people I love who, despite their Christian faith, seem to be of the opinion that either the virus isn’t real, or is not worth their concern because they either have not seen the savage effects it has on people or, more chillingly, they simply don’t care. Even a tiny chance of preventing all this suffering has to be taken seriously, yes? This has been a difficult time for me and my family as we try to decide how to protect ourselves and, more importantly, protect others, and I’m hoping you can shed some light on this uncertain issue for us. Thank you in advance for your time and opinions, may God bless you.

    1. My purpose in posting this is to let my readers know what the current science says on the matter. I have no other motive. As I say in the article, I wear a mask, because it puts others at ease. I am not anti-mask. However, I think our response to the pandemic should be driven by the data. The two studies I discuss demonstrate that if masks offer protection, it is weak, to say the least. If you look at my previous posts, you will see that all of my statements regarding the pandemic are based on the data.

  5. I actually got out my 10 yr old books on Clinical Assessment in Respiratory Care to look up what the science was before it became political. It discusses making sure you wear a mask if within 3 ft of a patient with respiratory illness or someone with reduced immunity. It stresses to always change between patients and if it becomes moist the surgical mask is no longer effective. Also surgical masks are not effective against TB.

    The biggest issue from what I see is the contamination from incorrect usage of the masks ex: they fiddle with it, constantly touching the outside of the mask then itching their eye. People wear them for too long and they become dirty.

    I work with people on oxygen and I’m personally finding even though they have oxygen on under their masks their SpO2 is decreasing significantly. If they pull their mask down to below the nose but keep their mouth covered their levels normalize.

  6. Dr Wile,
    Here is a similar study done in May about face masks put out by the CDC. The study was specifically looking at influenza transmission in non-clinical settings and PPE use, but there is obviously some lateral application to COVID. In the face mask section the author concludes “Our systematic review found no significant effect of face masks on transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza.” He does acknowledge most of the studies were underpowered, however.

    Thanks for your thoughts,

    1. It is hard to draw conclusions about COVID-19 from influenza studies. Yes, they are both viruses, but they are very different. Thus, I would prefer to focus on just the studies related to COVID-19 and mask use.

  7. Thanks for the info Dr. Jay.

    I might quote you sometime: “Protecting yourself against a virus using a mask that is not made specifically for viruses is roughly equivalent to protecting your yard against mosquitoes by installing a chain-link fence.”

    I wonder, did it ever occur to any of our leaders, or anyone at the CDC, to actually recommend using masks that are made specifically to protect against viruses, rather that, “Oh, any ol’ mask will do.”

    My family and I are currently in Lake Havasu, AZ. We were wearing masks everywhere when we were in Brazil (it’s mandated), but here hardly anyone uses them, so not much risk of making others uncomfortable.

    1. I saw that study yesterday, and I am not sure how it adds any new information. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is about 0.1 micrometer in diameter, and the study says that the masks performed very poorly for such particle sizes. Now, the study does say that the masks do pretty well at filtering out droplets, which was known already. Thus, as I say in my article, the mask may protect those around you. More importantly, I don’t see how this really relates to the pandemic. To see if masks make a significant difference when it comes to the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, we need to test the transmission of the virus itself.

  8. Did you know that patients don’t benefit from healthcare workers getting an annual flu shot?
    “Our review findings have not identified conclusive evidence of benefit of HCW (Healthcare Workers) vaccination programmes on specific outcomes of laboratory-proven influenza, its complications (lower respiratory tract infection, hospitalisation or death due to lower respiratory tract illness), or all cause mortality in people over the age of 60 who live in care institutions. …This review does not provide reasonable evidence to support the vaccination of healthcare workers to prevent influenza in those aged 60 years or older resident in LTCIs.”

    1. That’s not really surprising. After all, there are many ways for the virus to get into a long-term care facilities, what with the patients’ visitors, clergy, deliveries, etc. I suspect that the health-care workers themselves are not the main way patients get exposed.

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