Were masks a waste of time?
February 7, 2022 | By Geoff Shullenberger | unherd.com
“Last summer, as the Delta wave was upending hopes that widespread vaccination would end the pandemic, several Democratic-run cities and states in America reintroduced the mask mandates they had ditched earlier in the year. A few other blue states and cities, notably New York, as well as many Republican-led states and municipalities, opted not to require masking again at that point.
This policy divergence created an opportunity to examine the impact of mask mandates. Those areas that rescinded their mandates could function as control groups for evaluating the effect of the policy on cases and mortality. But neither public health experts nor any of the major media outlets took up this opportunity. The reason, most of them would likely have said if pressed on the subject, was there was nothing to learn: “the science” was settled.
For their part, critics of masking and other Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) typically relied on principled assertions of freedom. This gave them little reason to examine the evidentiary basis of these policies, since they would have rejected them on moral grounds even if they worked. Only a few sceptical observers drilled into the data that could be found on sites such as the New York Times — even if the paper’s own reporters made little of it. The most prolific of these was Ian Miller, who over the past two years has published copious data-driven commentary on the track record of various Covid public health interventions.
Miller arrives time and again at the same conclusion: that the ad hoc pandemic mitigation policies rolled out since 2020 have systematically failed to achieve goals. Miller has now compiled one subset of his graphs and commentaries into a book titled Unmasked: The Global Failure of Covid Mask Mandates which focuses solely on the most ubiquitous pandemic containment strategy deployed by governments worldwide: masks.
The endorsement of masking by medical bodies and public health authorities worldwide, Miller shows, entailed the abandonment of a longstanding view that masks were a useless and even harmful intervention. Over the previous decades, numerous randomised controlled trials had assessed the efficacy of masks in controlling the spread of respiratory viruses like influenza, and pandemic simulations had evaluated their potential.”