It has been known for decades that face masks don’t work against respiratory virus epidemics. Why has much of the world nonetheless fallen for the face mask folly? Twelve reasons.
1) The droplet model
Many health authorities have relied on the obsolete ‘droplet model’ of virus transmission. If this model were correct, face masks would indeed work. But in reality, respiratory droplets – which by definition cannot be inhaled – play almost no role in virus transmission. Instead, respiratory viruses are transmitted via much smaller aerosols, as well as, possibly, some object surfaces. Face masks don’t work against either of these transmission routes.
2) The Asian paradox
During the first year of the pandemic, several East Asian countries had a very low coronavirus infection rate, and many health experts falsely assumed that this was due to face masks. In reality, it was due to very rapid border controls in some countries neighboring China as well as a combination of metabolic and immunologic factors reducing transmission rates. Nevertheless, many East Asian countries eventually got overwhelmed by the coronavirus, too (see charts below).
3) The Czech mirage
In the spring of 2020, the Czech Republic was one of the first European countries that introduced face masks. Because the Czech infection rate initially stayed low, many health experts falsely concluded that this was due to the masks. In reality, most of Eastern Europe simply missed the first wave of the epidemic. A few months later, the Czech Republic had the highest infection rate in the world, but by then, much of the world had already introduced face mask mandates.
4) Fake science
For decades, studies have shown that face masks don’t work against respiratory virus epidemics. But with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and increasing political pressure (see below), suddenly studies appeared claiming the opposite. In reality, these studies were a mixture of confounded observational data, unrealistic modelling and lab results, and outright fraud. The most influential fraudulent study certainly was the WHO-commissioned meta-study published in The Lancet.
5) Asymptomatic transmission
Another factor contributing to the implementation of mask mandates was the notion of ‘asymptomatic transmission’. The idea was that everybody should be wearing a mask because even people without symptoms might spread the virus. The importance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission is still a matter of debate – up to half of all transmission might occur prior to symptom onset –, but either way, face masks simply don’t work against aerosol transmission.
6) Political pressure
Several political factors contributed to the implementation of mask mandates. First, some politicians simply wanted to “do something” against the pandemic; second, some politicians thought face masks might have a “psychological effect” and might “remind” citizens to stay cautious (if anything, it had the opposite effect: creating a ‘false sense of security’); third, some politicians used mask mandates to enforce compliance and pressure the population into accepting mass vaccination.
In addition, there was a vicious circle involving science and politics: politicians claimed to “follow the science”, but scientists followed politics. For instance, the WHO admitted that their updated mask guidelines were in response to “political lobbying”, not new evidence. The most influential lobby group was “Masks For All”, founded by a “Young Leader” of the World Economic Forum (WEF).
7) The media
Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the ‘mass media’ amplified the fraudulent science and the political pressure driving mask mandates. Only some independent media outlets and some truly independent experts questioned the validity of the underlying evidence. However, their voices got suppressed as dubious “fact checking” organizations eagerly enforced official guidelines and throttled or censored many articles and videos critical of face masks.
8) “Surgeons wear masks”
Surgeons wear masks, so they must be effective, right? This was another notion contributing to the face mask misunderstanding. In reality, surgeons wear masks not against viruses, but against much larger bacteria, but more importantly, studies have long shown that even surgeons’ masks make no difference in terms of bacterial wound infections.
9) “Masks suppressed the flu”
“Masks suppressed the flu, so they obviously work.” This was another very common claim in favor of masks. While it is true that the flu (i.e. influenza viruses) disappeared in the spring of 2020 and remained absent throughout the coronavirus pandemic, masks had nothing to do with it.
This is evident as the flu disappeared even in states without masks, lockdowns and school closures – such as Sweden, Florida and Belarus – while the flu hadn’t disappeared during earlier flu epidemics and pandemics, despite widespread mask use (e.g. during the 2019 flu epidemic in Japan).
Instead, influenza viruses disappeared globally because they were temporarily displaced by the more infectious novel coronavirus (so-called viral interference, known from previous pandemics); for the same reason, new coronavirus variants repeatedly displaced existing variants, often within weeks. Indeed, in countries that had reached very high levels of population immunity against the coronavirus, the flu returned by summer 2021 (e.g. in India at 80% population immunity).
10) Misleading memes
To convince low-IQ social media users of the effectiveness of face masks, several unscientific memes were created. The most notorious one probably was the “peeing into your pants” meme, shared by many ‘health experts’ (really). Many of these memes exploited the fact that most people simply don’t realize how small and ubiquitous viral aerosols really are.
11) Doubling down
After mask mandates had been implemented globally and billions of dollars had been spent on masks, it soon became obvious – once more – that masks simply don’t work against respiratory virus epidemics (see charts below). But at that point, neither politicians, nor ‘health experts’, nor duped citizens who had to wear them for months wanted to admit this anymore.
Instead, some ‘health authorities’ doubled down and enforced outdoor masking (even on beaches), double-masking, or N95/FFP2 masking, to no avail. The one novel scientific insight produced during the coronavirus pandemic was that even N95/FFP2 mask mandates have made no difference at all.
12) Sweden: The exception that proved the rule
Only very few countries in the world have resisted the face mask folly. The most famous example is probably Sweden (see charts below), which has also resisted the lockdown experiment. Naturally, Swedish coronavirus mortality has remained below the European average. But the many vicious attacks against Sweden by much of the international media showed just how difficult it has been to escape the global madness and follow the real science during this bizarre pandemic.
The facemask aerosol issue
In the following video, Dr. Theodore Noel explains the facemask aerosol issue.
How face masks and lockdowns failed
The following charts show that infections have been driven primarily by seasonal and endemic factors, whereas mask mandates and lockdowns have had no discernible impact (charts: IanMSC).
“The more masks fail, the more we need them.” (IanMSC)
You have been reading: The Face Mask Folly in Retrospect.
An analysis by Swiss Policy Research.