• Guest Author

Are Masks Effective? The Science of Masking

Updated: Sep 9

For more than 18 months, we’ve been told that masks are important to prevent the spread of Covid and occasionally you may hear that masks are inadequate to prevent transmission of viral disease. Confused??? In this article, we follow journalist Jeffery Anderson as he digs into the science, methodologies of testing, and the results found when testing the efficacy of masks. This article ends with a list of reference materials.


In an August 11, 2021, City-Journal article, [7] Jeffrey Anderson reviewed the scientific evidence for universal masking, noting that on February 25, 2020, U.K. health authorities published guidance discouraging the use of masks even for health care workers in residential care facilities due to the fact that they don’t prevent viral spread.


Anderson quotes it as saying, “During normal day-to-day activities facemasks do not provide protection from respiratory viruses, such as COVID-19 and do not need to be worn by staff.”


Ditto for then-Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who February 29, 2020, tweeted: “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching #Coronavirus.” [3] Adams has since deleted the tweet, but it lives in infamy all over the internet. [4,5,6]


Similarly, March 30, 2020, the executive director for the World Health Organization’s Health Emergency Program stated, “there is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any particular benefit.” [8]


The rationale at the time was that surgical masks are not designed to protect the wearer or others against viral transmission, as the holes in the fabric are far larger than any virus. They’re merely meant to prevent a health care worker from inadvertently infecting a patient’s wound with bacteria-laden saliva or respiratory droplets. As reported by Anderson [9] :


“Public-health officials’ advice in the early days of Covid-19 was consistent with that understanding. Then, on April 3, 2020, Adams announced that the CDC was changing its guidance and that the general public should hereafter wear masks whenever sufficient social distancing could not be maintained.

Many cities across the country, following new CDC guidance handed down amid a spike in cases nationally caused by the Delta variant, are once again mandating indoor mask-wearing for everyone, regardless of inoculation status.

The CDC further recommends that all schoolchildren and teachers, even those who have had Covid-19 or have been vaccinated, should wear masks …

How did mask guidance change so profoundly? Did the medical research on the effectiveness of masks change — and in a remarkably short period of time — or just the guidance on wearing them?”

Randomized Controlled Trials


First, let’s talk about scientific testing and how it is properly conducted. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have long been regarded as the gold standard in medical research, as they allow you to isolate a specific variable and reduce the ability of researchers to produce a preferred outcome.


The first and only COVID-19-specific randomized controlled surgical mask trial, [19,20] published November 18, 2020, undermined the official narrative that masking works. Interestingly, it found routine mask wearing may either reduce your risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection by as much as 46%, or it may increase your risk by 23%.


Either way, the vast majority — 97.9% of those who didn’t wear masks, and 98.2% of those who did — remained infection-free (well before mass vaccination began).


The study included 3,030 individuals assigned to wear a surgical face mask and 2,994 unmasked controls. Of them, 80.7% completed the study. Based on the adherence scores reported, 46% of participants always wore the mask as recommended, 47% predominantly as recommended and 7% failed to follow recommendations.


Among mask wearers, 1.8% ended up testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, compared to 2.1% among controls. When they removed those who did not adhere to the recommendations for use, the results remained the same — 1.8%, which suggests adherence makes no significant difference either.


Among those who reported wearing their face mask “exactly as instructed,” 2% tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 compared to 2.1% of the controls.


Another investigation [21] that compared caseloads between states with mask mandates and those without showed states with mask mandates had an average of 27 positive SARS-CoV-2 “cases” per 100,000 people, whereas states with no mask mandates had just 17 cases per 100,000. This too suggests mask mandates have no positive impact to speak of.


Curiously, RCTs have been rarely used when it comes to mask wearing. Why is that? Anderson reports [10] :</