On the BioLogos Forum Daniel Fisher cites an article from the Foundation for Economic Education entitled “Europe’s Top Health Officials Say Masks Aren’t Helpful in Beating COVID-19” and asks the Forum:
So forgive me for rocking the boat, but my interest is hearing all the science and making an informed decision…
Can anyone tell me what to make of what is reported at the following? I hardly have much inside information, but the individuals and organizations that question the efficacy of masks don’t exactly seem fringe or agenda driven.
Thus it raises my suspicion again to be told yet again “the science is settled” when there seems to be legitimate dissent from very serious scientists and public health organizations.
The article purports to quote from recognized health officials in Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Finland that downgrade the efficacy of public mask wearing to minimize COVID-19 transmission. Some examples from the article:
- Denmark. ““All these countries recommending face masks haven’t made their decisions based on new studies,” said Henning Bundgaard, chief physician at Denmark’s Rigshospitale…”
- The Netherlands. “From a medical point of view, there is no evidence of a medical effect of wearing face masks, so we decided not to impose a national obligation,” said Medical Care Minister Tamara van Ark.” “Face masks in public places are not necessary, based on all the current evidence,” said Coen Berends, spokesman for the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. “There is no benefit and there may even be negative impact.”
- Sweden. “With numbers diminishing very quickly in Sweden, we see no point in wearing a face mask in Sweden, not even on public transport,” said Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s top infectious disease expert…”
The article goes on to criticize mask mandates as anti-freedom as well as possibly even harmful.
Moderator Christy Hemphill responds with the following links that challenge the FEE article:
- Utah sees virus surge – but not in county with mask order https://www.fox10phoenix.com/news/utah-sees-virus-surge-but-not-in-county-with-mask-order
- Kansas counties with mask mandate show steep COVID-19 drop https://apnews.com/f218e1a38cce6b2af63c1cd23f1d234e
- Coronavirus cases rise in states with relaxed face mask policies https://www.inquirer.com/health/coronavirus/covid-19-coronavirus-face-masks-infection-rates-20200624.html
- Coronavirus cases down as Californians must wear face masks in public https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/06/19/coronavirus-cases-down-as-californians-must-wear-face-masks-in-public/
- Hamilton County’s mask mandate: Is it working to curb coronavirus? https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2020/aug/07/hamilton-countys-mask-mandate-it-working-curb-coronavirus/529350/
Those links seems pretty conclusive to me. So what’s with the European health experts so-called skepticism?* BioLogos commentator James McKay offers an explanation:
Here’s a simple question. In the whole discussion around masks, who is actually providing the technical explanations and hands-on demonstrations?
It’s not the anti-mask brigade. If you look at their claims that the science is “not settled,” all you see are appeals to authority from experts-for-hire. And when you actually click through the links to see what the experts’ concerns about masks actually are, what do you find? They aren’t saying that masks are ineffective at all. Their worries are about people ending up with a false sense of security. Or about wearing their masks in ways that reduce their effectiveness. They are being portrayed as saying that masks are not necessary when in actual fact they are saying that they aren’t sufficient.
What you don’t see from them is any kind of critique of the reasons why we are being told to wear masks. No discussion of the R number. No discussion of the fact that the virus gets carried in droplets, and it’s those droplets rather than the individual virus particles that get stopped by masks. No discussion of the demonstrations of why masks are effective that are two a penny on YouTube. Such as this one for starters:
How Well Do Masks Work? (Schlieren Imaging In Slow Motion!)
That’s the thing you need to realise about science. It is not something that gets decided simply by pitting one set of opinions against another. It is a very hands-on, practical activity where you learn and draw conclusions by actually doing it or seeing others do it.
This issue continues to rage and all too often its evangelical Christians participating in the anti-mask raging. I am still seeing anti-mask posts on Facebook from my Christian friends trying to make the issue into a “free exercise of rights” issue. That’s why I’m posting this. It is a clear case of not understanding the science. Ask yourself this- why are hospital surgical teams ALWAYS masked with no exceptions? Would you want your surgeon operating on you without a mask? It is not a rights issue. We give up certain rights for the public good. You can’t drive as fast as you want through a school zone. Men can’t walk away from their children without supporting them. You can’t pay your workers poverty-level wages. Free speech doesn’t give you the right to yell FIRE in a crowded theater. The right to swing your fist ends at my nose. You don’t have a right to infect me with a virus.
Mask wearing in public isn’t a perfect solution, but it does have limited effectiveness. See the links above from Christy Hemphill. I’m going to end with the illustration from BioLogos commentator Dale Cutler. It’s a little crude, but it does help get the point across –
(* If you follow the money on the European health expert article you find that FEE is financed through the Koch brothers. I don’t begrudge the Koch brothers their right to express their opinions but I do recognize they have a definite agenda, and it isn’t always neutral science.)