Two Faces of the Face-Mask Mandate

by Sidney Bostian

Governor Ralph Northam will announce tomorrow the details of a statewide mandate to wear masks in public spaces and businesses. “We are working through the policy. Obviously it’s an equity issue,” Northam said at his Friday news conference, adding that all Virginia residents would need access to face coverings and that he is examining how to enforce such a policy.

“Wearing a mask could literally save someone else’s life,” Northam said. “That is becoming clearer every day as we move further into managing this virus over the long term.”

The justification cited above — “could literally save someone’s life” — is one of the most interesting “definite maybes” uttered by a public official in recent memory. A careful observer would note that Northam failed to cite his scientific sources for that statement.

Mask wearing in the COVID-19 era has become controversial. Proponents suggest that the coronavirus can be managed only if we compel everyone to wear masks. Opponents to mandatory masks flinch as if they are being asked to wear the “mark of the beast.” Virginians seem evenly divided with about half favoring masks and about half opposing (acknowledging that there are some who don’t care and will swing like a barn door).

Given the passions of the partisans on both sides, it is reasonable to ask that the Governor’s decree meet two tests. First, that there is scientific evidence that universal mask wearing will save lives, and second, that there are few if any citizens who will be adversely affected by long-duration, long-term use of masks. One would hope that Northam, a physician, would affirm the “do no harm” principle.

A recently published meta-analysis of available randomized controlled trials evaluating the efficacy of masks to control spread of respiratory viruses (Masks Don’t Work: A review of science relevant to COVID-19 social policy by D.G Rancourt, April 2020 – accessible on researchgate.net) reached the following conclusion:

Masks and respirators do not work. There have been extensive randomized controlled trials (RCT) studies, and meta-analysis reviews of RCT studies, which all show that masks and respirators do not work to prevent respiratory influenza-like illnesses, or respiratory illnesses believed to be transmitted by droplets and aerosol particles. Furthermore, the relevant known physics and biology, which I review, are such that masks and respirators should not work. It would be a paradox if masks and respirators worked, given what we know about viral respiratory diseases: The main transmission path is long-residence-time aerosol particles (< 2.5 μm), which are too fine to be blocked, and the minimum-infective-dose is smaller than one aerosol particle.

The present paper about masks illustrates the degree to which governments, the mainstream media, and institutional propagandists can decide to operate in a science vacuum, or select only incomplete science that serves their interests. Such recklessness is also certainly the case with the current global lockdown of over 1 billion people, an unprecedented experiment in medical and political history.

One can also find sources implying that masks, if properly fitted, might be a helpful adjunct to hand washing and extreme care in placing hands on the face. Note the qualifiers. Many studies note that absent proper hand washing and extreme care in keeping unwashed hands away from the face, masks provide considerably less protection. I cannot find RCT studies (the gold standard) which demonstrate statistically significant reduction in virus spread. It is quite difficult on the basis of available research to establish the efficacy of masks in reducing respiratory virus spread. It would seem that the governor’s impending edict would fail an efficacy test.

Long-duration, long-term mask wearing is not without cost to those wearing the masks. There are significant populations for whom wearing masks for long periods of time is harmful. Individuals with COPD, emphysema, heavy smokers, and a variety of cardiac conditions can experience negative effects when required to wear masks for extended periods. Additionally, there is considerable literature showing that mask wearing reduces blood oxygenation between 5% and 20% when worn for long periods of time. Over 30% of healthcare professionals who wear surgical masks or N95 masks for several hours at a time experience headaches, light headedness and impaired decision making.

Any reasonable review of pertinent literature would acknowledge that health costs would be imposed on many who are compelled to wear face masks. There is additional credible literature pointing to immune system impairment resulting from long-term mask usage and worsening of infections in sick people. If we apply a no-harm criterion to Northam’s proposed course of action, it would fail.

If the proposed course of action fails even rudimentary tests of efficacy and benign effect on those required to wear the masks, we are left with the question of why the governor is pursuing the mandate. Given the Governor’s appearance at Virginia Beach on Memorial Day weekend without a mask and violating his own social distancing dictates, how can we reasonably infer that he believes in his own recommendations?

Sidney Bostian lives in the Richmond area.

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38 responses to “Two Faces of the Face-Mask Mandate

  1. And walking, instead of driving, could literally save someone else’s life.

  2. A useful discussion, if for no one else at least those who tell us to follow the settled science….

    The Governor will also be appointing his mask czar, removing him from the task of keeping Northern Virginians inside their perimeter.

  3. I was under the impression that science supports the mask wearing.

    Did the airlines need to meet these requirements for them to mandate masks?

    • Settled science is an oxymoron, Larry. There is legitimate debate on the masks, but as our Fearless Leader says, what’s the harm? As far as I’m concerned, any business can set its own rules. No shoes, no shirt, no mask, no service. Different than a government mandate. Then you have customer expectations. If the airlines want me on the plane, temp checks and masks will make that more likely.

      • so this is an oxymoron ? I mean some yahoo scientist just made it up, right?

        • Eugenics was a science, Larry. Would you have worked at Buchenwald?

          Tired of this argument. ….For a month we were told, don’t wear a mask! Now we’re told, oops, it really does help. Then our State Fearless Leader shows us he really doesn’t worry, so why should we? The public’s confusion is totally understandable. And on the transmission rate, what was believed a few months ago is very different than what is happening now. Or did you read Carol Bova’s other piece in the last day or so? That transmission rate CHANGES and now seems to be diminishing rapidly. Science for you is an instrument of control.

          • Cold Fusion was also, but neither were “settled”. Older science tends to be settled – not that it still can’t be revised but usually it’s pieces and parts, not the whole enchilada.

            Science is a body of knowledge that does evolve and change.

            My question to Carol was can you look at infection rate for different regions rather than the State as a whole and if so, what does that really mean if someone says the R value for the state has dropped below the reproduction level but NoVa is still raging?

            here’s a good article – just out today:

            Virginia Coronavirus Map and Case Count
            By The New York TimesUpdated May 25, 2020, 8:21 A.M. E.T.

            https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/virginia-coronavirus-cases.html

        • No, as Steve stated anyone using the term “settled science” is using an oxymoron. The primary premise of the scientific method makes that as such. The process that was taught in 6th grade science class (where I’m from) explains that we develop a hypothesis and continually try to disprove it.

          This is evident by Einstein developing quantum mechanics to disprove his theory of relativity.

          What you posted is not science is statistics.

          • Science is an ever expanding and settled body of knowledge.

            the earth is no longer flat and now the theory of gravity is more settled than it ever was, way back when Newston was postulating… still a theory but pretty settled. Used to launch GPS and weather satellites , ICBMs, space stations, all day long.

            When we encounter new phenomena or even older that have never been understood enough so that consensus reached – then investigation and research continue – but we know than we did before…

            e.g. polio … cancer… el nino… DNA… you name it…

            The anti-vaxxers and laetrile folks also have a view of science.

            And now we have those who prefer to believe what they want.

          • Larry, there is no “theory of gravity”, Newton described “Gravity” in 1687. Gravity is a consent of either 9.81 m/s^2 or 32.2 ft/s^2 on Earth.

            “the earth is no longer flat and now the theory of gravity is more settled than it ever was, way back when Newston was postulating… still a theory but pretty settled. Used to launch GPS and weather satellites , ICBMs, space stations, all day long.”

            That is the most nonsensical statement I have truly ever seen. Also, rocket launches don’t use “g” they use “G” and not in the method you described. The rockets need to overcome the Gravitational Consent to exit the atmosphere.

            “When we encounter new phenomena or even older that have never been understood enough so that consensus reached – then investigation and research continue – but we know than we did before…”

            Addressing nothing of what I said.

            “e.g. polio … cancer… el nino… DNA… you name it…

            The anti-vaxxers and laetrile folks also have a view of science.

            And now we have those who prefer to believe what they want.”

            What does this have to do with what I said?

            I’d say keep away from discussing science, but you won’t heed those words. I can say congrats for using the data I provided you on median worker age, although you incorrectly applied it to your previous arguments, where it wasn’t valid.

          • Sorry to inform you that Newton did a fair amount of work that involves several areas of gravitation and yes they underly fundamental dynamics in not only launches but also staying in orbit including asynchronous, or return to earth…etc.etc..

            the point being that although we say “theory” – the calculations are precise – so precise that our GPS on earth is fairly accurate.

            those calculations have been honed over the years and then put on computers with 64 bit words to get enough accuracy to be able to estimate errors to feet… CEP…

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_equations_in_gravitation#Newtonian_gravitation

            gravity is not uniform either -it varies because the earth is not only not flat, it’s not a sphere either…

            I think you need some more time on task guy… nattering does not become you…

          • “Sorry to inform you that Newton did a fair amount of work that involves several areas of gravitation and yes they underly fundamental dynamics in not only launches but also staying in orbit including asynchronous, or return to earth…etc.etc..”

            Feel free to quote where I said that Newton’s achievements were only associated with “g”. Gravity doesn’t launch anything, it’s acceleration with respect to the Earth’s rotation.

            PS: gravity has nothing to do with satellites staying in space, satellites in low level orbit travel at speeds which defeat the pull of gravity.

            GPS accuracy is based upon the number of satellites that your devices is communicating with, ie triangulation.

            Also, the more GPS satellites launched into orbit plays a factor in that as well.

            “those calculations have been honed over the years and then put on computers with 64 bit words to get enough accuracy to be able to estimate errors to feet… CEP…”

            That statement is absolute garbage (excuse my language). 64 bit computing has been used since the 70’s.

            I would suggest not linking to Wikipedia for concepts that you don’t understand and therefore are making a fool of yourself.

            Gravity “little g” is considered uniform for equalization purposes. In Physics class we don’t use variable g, knowing that it would slightly diminished at the equator. We use 9.81 m/s^2 when in metric units (preferred for the fact that English gets messy).

            “I think you need some more time on task guy… nattering does not become you…”

            Yeah, about that. I have BS in Electrical Engineering. So, I mean if you want to continue to look like a fool, be my guest.

          • yes, you definitely have BS! congrats!

            keep blathering… 😉

          • LarryBear,

            Your ad hom attack says otherwise, also I don’t think you know what aghast means.

            So given your SOP to prattle on about topics you clearly have zero education in, what exactly was your professional training?

            Oh, pro tip. Sarcasm only works when you know what you’re talking about (whoops a tiny bit mean spirited).

          • no… it was aghast… I’m quite sure.. yep

            and yes… dealing with questionable stuff here …agree..

            Surprising professionally… too!!!!

            but yes, impressed…. for sure…

          • Again, Larry sarcasm only works when you have knowledge of a topic. Do try and keep up, or at least attempt to remain civil when you’ve lost a debate.

            Also, your deflection of your professional training is noted.

        • Your ad hom attack is noted.

          You’re the one that questioned the notion that “settled science” was an oxymoron. I pointed out that it truly is, and you expounded with your zero knowledge of science, gravity, satellites and computer architecture.

          I’m sorry, my education, profession and knowledge scares you.

          • on, it does not scare me… I’m aghast but not surprised.

            but impressed….yes… very

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            MAdams –

            Thanks for tossing out garbage on BR.

            How refreshing it is here to read someone who knows what they are talking about. It’s an increasing rare commodity these days.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    His excellency, Ralph Northam, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia will have another moonwalk moment when mandatory vaccinations are enforced. I just hope the shot is not in the butt cheek.

    • Afraid it will blemish your good looks? Or it may result in a pithing?

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Keep your forked tongue behind your twisted and crooked teeth Grima nn.

      • Perhaps you should ask Military members how the untested anthrax vaccine has worked out for them.

        • why? tell me more… does it have anything to do
          with electrical engineering? more! more!

          • Well LarryBear, you have google and I think there is a Wikipedia page where you can look it up. Understanding it, however might be a little bit more of a difficult situation.

            The cliff notes version, is as follows:

            The anthrax vaccine had a hard time getting FDA approval and caused an adverse reaction 60% of time. It was only administered to Military personnel.

            Nothing to do with my EE, but it does have to do with my US Army Commission.

            Would you care to have a discussion on Feres?

        • does it occur to you that you are engaging in, is a continuing personal attack here?

          So, unless you can behave and stay on topic – see ya…later…

        • “LarrytheG | May 26, 2020 at 1:54 pm | Reply
          does it occur to you that you are engaging in, is a continuing personal attack here?

          So, unless you can behave and stay on topic – see ya…later…”

          Oh really, I’m engaging in an ad hom attack? I find that rather comical coming from, say yourself.

          “LarrytheG | May 26, 2020 at 1:33 pm | Reply
          why? tell me more… does it have anything to do
          with electrical engineering? more! more!”

          The fact that you cannot discern, that a vast majority of your responses have in fact been ad hom attacks that are so far in the weeds tells everyone, lots.

  5. Thank you for not smoking that I will not die from your secondhand carcinogens. Thank you for wearing a mask that I will not be sickened by your contagions. Now, about farting….

  6. Instead of taking pot shots, commenters should engage the actual argument or arguments being made.

    These are interesting arguments. The first one, scientific basis, is a legitimate one. The second argument, harm from long-duration wearing of a mask is not a legitimate criticism. I have not seen any guidance anywhere that persons should wear masks for long durations, say for an hour or more. And I would be very surprised if the Governor makes such a recommendation.

    As for the scientific evidence, the Governor has made no claim that there is scientific evidence that cloth masks prevent the spread of COVID-19. In fact, I have not seen any claim to that effect. The study cited above concluded, “masks and respirators do not work to prevent respiratory influenza-like illnesses, or respiratory illnesses believed to be transmitted by droplets and aerosol particles.” [Emphasis added] The CDC is recommending “the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.” [Emphasis added] The Mayo Clinic’s position is, “A cloth mask is worn to help protect others in case the wearer has the virus.” [Emphasis added] Both the CDC and Mayo Clinic emphasize that, even with masks, social distancing is needed. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, “ wearing a cloth face mask will lose any value unless it’s combined with frequent hand-washing and social distancing.”

    In summary, a mask does not prevent the transmission of the coronavirus. It is another tool in the effort to slow the spread of the disease. Because the chief value of a mask seems to be reducing the spread of the coronavirus by asymptomatic persons, it seems that wearing a mask is a mark of common courtesy to other people. It tells others, “I respect your health enough that I am doing what I can, while I have to be out, to reduce the chance that I may inadvertently cause you to be infected.”

    As society gets more and more restive and wants the economy to be opened up and states begin to take steps to do so, it would seem that people so concerned about the economy would welcome every precaution or requirement, be it social distancing, limitation on large gatherings, or masks, that would instill enough confidence in the general public that folks start going out and buying stuff.

    Links:
    https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html#:~:text=In%20light%20of%20this%20new,community%2Dbased%20transmission.

    https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/covid-19-how-much-protection-do-face-masks-offer/

  7. I notice that that “Infection Rate” chart has this in the small(very small) print
    . . . “*according to data from Wuhan”

    So this chart is based on the reliability of the figures from CHINA?!

  8. there are others :

    https://i.insider.com/5e6bf325e4f9fe0a963ebb62?width=600&format=jpeg&auto=webp

    but notice also the rate is a RANGE so it can and does vary and yes, if the number of actual infections used is not accurate then that corrupts the infection rate. Under counting can be purposeful and a result of people dying from COVID19 and not being counted because they never went to a hospital.

    The infection rate an also be affected by not counting and/or not knowing how many people got infected and recovered (have antibodies).

    Infection rates can and do vary by region such that one rate for an entire state may not show high rates of infections in some regions.

    It’s a gross number that if you don’t know the context can mislead.

    For instance, look at this map and what should the infection rate
    for the state look like? Can you tell if the trend is up or down?

  9. On the jogging trail I wear a mask, but probably majority of walkers do not. I overheard one person telling another that there is zero chance of outdoor transmission, so I was being over cautious. We got a lot of “experts” out there on various sides, in the days of social media influence on opinions.

  10. I do not wear one while walking [- and have not seen more than one or two wearing them… but everyone is careful about distance…

    I also pick up trash (which oddly enough includes masks)…. but I use a “grabber” and I spray my hands with rubbing alcohol.

    • Very good 10-points to Larry on trash duty…I also do some.

      • no needles down our way James… at least in the Battlefields I’ve been in… but beer cans, yes… KFC /McD bags, etc… not terrible… but persistent and what is known as micro-trash which is not easy to clean up…

        but happy days…. the folks who were originally putting their dog poop in plastic bags and leaving by the road – they’ve stopped…

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      Be careful Mr. Larry. When I worked out at Manassas Battlefield we had a terrible problem with needles at Chinn Ridge.

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