People have been using masks for a long time. The oldest masks ever found were 9,000 years old. Masks have been used for religious rituals, for fun, in factories to protect against breathing in chemicals and dust particles, for protection against smog, to punish slaves and gossipy wives, to commit crimes, and, of course, for Halloween. But the focus of this article will be about the medical use of masks.
Bubonic plague recurred in Europe for centuries. In 17th Century Europe, doctors who tended plague victims believed that it spread through poisoned air known as miasma that could create an imbalance in a person’s bodily fluids or humors. To protect themselves, physicians wore a long coat covered in scented wax, a hat and gloves made of goat leather, and a mask with a 6” long bird-like beak filled with herbs, cinnamon, myrrh, and perfume among other things. They also carried a long rod to poke or fend off victims with. Of course, all these silly outfits did was make them look ridiculous.
Before we get into what modern science has to say about masks, it’s important to understand what isn’t science. Authoritative statements made by people with M.D. or PhD after their names is not science–the same goes for celebrities and billionaires. Decrees, directives, and executive orders made by politicians, corporate CEOs, directors of institutions, and public health authorities is not science. They may or may not be telling the truth. You have to check their sources and see if they represent any special interests that could create bias. To blindly believe them because they are so-called experts is to commit the appeal to authority fallacy. A logical fallacy is a mistaken belief based on unsound reasoning.
The gold standard in science are randomized controlled trials with verified outcomes because they eliminate bias and speculation. For example, hormone replacement therapy. Originally, estrogen therapy was thought to reduce heart attacks. This was based on an observational study. But when a randomized controlled trial or experimental study was done it showed that estrogen therapy actually increased the risk of a heart attack. To make it simple, compare what I just said with going on a trip. Epidemiological and other observational studies are the travel route, randomized controlled trials with verified outcomes are the destination.
In the case of masks, some observational/epidemiological studies show that they lowered COVID-19 cases and death rates in places that mandate mask wearing as opposed to places that don’t. But there are also studies that show the opposite. For example, Michigan, population 10,045,000, very punitive lockdown restrictions, strict mask mandates. Sweden, population 10,110,405, no punitive lockdown restrictions, no mask mandates. Total COVID-19 deaths in Michigan: 7,019. Total COVID-19 deaths in Sweden: 5,880. One can cherry-pick this kind of data adnauseam, but it’s all speculation. The bottom line question is: do masks block viral particles? Only experimental studies or randomized controlled trials with verified outcomes can answer this question by testing the masks directly. Such studies have been done numerous times.
Of the most comprehensive studies on masks was done in the United Kingdom in 2008 by the HSE (Health Safety Executive), it’s like our OSHA, entitled: “Evaluating the protection afforded by surgical masks against influenza bioaerosols” “Gross protection of surgical masks compared to filtering facepiece respirators” (N95 masks).
Background: “There is a common misconception amongst workers and employers that surgical masks will protect against aerosols…However, surgical masks are not intended to provide protection against infectious aerosols.”
Aerosols are very fine particles, much smaller than respiratory droplets, that are suspended in the fluid air for long periods of time and can travel quite far. We release these aerosols through breathing and speaking—they can contain large amounts of pathogenic viruses—the part of our body most vulnerable to them is the respiratory system.
In the HSE study, different kinds of masks were tested on a dummy’s head which was exposed to aerosols containing influenza virus particles to see if the masks would filter them out. Influenza virus is supposed to be similar in size to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that supposedly causes COVID-19.
Page 21: “Live infectious virus was extracted in enumerable quantities from the air from behind all the surgical masks tested. This suggests that influenza virus can survive in aerosol particles and bypass/penetrate a surgical mask and that a residual infectious aerosol hazard may exist.”
Page 22: “Even if the mask is manufactured from high efficiency filtering media, a high proportion of particles challenging the surgical mask will enter the breathing zone via breaches in the face seal. Furthermore, a high efficiency filtration media and fluid-resistant layers are likely to increase breathing resistance. This, together with a poor face fit, will increase the degree of leakage around the face seal.”
Page 23: “As surgical masks cannot be fitted well to the face, their use may not be adequate for protection against a residual airborne infection hazard.”
A June 26, 2019 study in Peer J—Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences: “Optimal microscopic study of surface morphology and filtering efficiency of face masks” demonstrated that cloth masks are even worse than surgical masks.
Background: “Low-cost face masks made from different cloth materials are very common in developing countries. The cloth masks (CM) are usually double layered with stretchable ear loops. It is common practice to use such masks for months after multiple washing and drying cycles. If a CM is used for long time, the ear loops become stretched. The loop needs to be knotted to make the mask loop fit better on the face.”
Conclusions: “Filtering efficiency of CM for ambient PM (particulate matter) was poorer than in SM (surgical masks). The poor efficiency was due to the presence of larger sized pores. Our study also demonstrated that washing and drying cycle deteriorates the filtering efficiency due to change in pore shape and clearance. We also found that stretching of the CM surface alters the pore size and potentially decreases the filtering efficiency. The findings of this study suggest that CM are not effective, and that effectiveness deteriorates if used after washing and drying cycles and if used under stretched condition.” And what does the CDC recommend? Washing cloth masks.
Bottom line: all masks, doesn’t matter what kind, have a network of microscopic pores/holes in them. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t be able to breath at all. Unlike the 1911 Manchurian plague which was caused by a bacterial pathogen, respiratory diseases like the Spanish flu are caused by viruses. The average size of most bacteria is between 0.2 and 2.0 microns. Viruses are a lot smaller. SARS-CoV-2 is between 0.06 and 0.14 microns which makes it a lot smaller than the pores in any mask. N95 masks have the smallest pores at 0.3 microns. But viruses don’t travel through the air by themselves—they travel via droplets and aerosols which are larger than the virus, but still small enough to go through the pores in any mask. The larger the pores in the mask the more particles and droplets will get through.
Two things to keep in mind: one virion (cell free virus particle) is enough to cause infection if it enters into a cell and multiplies. This debunks the assertion that masks are better than nothing because they block some viral particles. Additionally, the CDC does not recommend N95 masks be worn by the general public in order to reserve them for health care workers. In order to block at least 95% of infectious viral particles, N95 masks have to be properly fitted to a person’s face in a clinical setting. Instead, the CDC recommends that the general public wear cloth masks which at best filters out only 30% of viral particles. Now I ask you: is this really about public health? Simply stated: wearing any kind of mask to prevent viral diseases is a waste of time.
In other words, masks are worthless. Lots of viral pathogens will always get around and go through any mask. The science proving this hasn’t changed. It is the political agenda that has changed.The Plain Truth About Face Masks