In mid-2020, the Centers for Disease Control decreed that all Americans should mask up to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They even insisted masks were the most important tool to offer protection, even more so than vaccines. Now, it appears once again government officials may have gotten it wrong, leading many to question if masking was more politics than science.
Consider this… before COVID, health experts almost universally agreed that masking an entire population was unnecessary to prevent respiratory diseases. We have never done it for highly contagious ones such as the flu or RSV. They concluded years ago that most masks available in large enough supplies to the public don’t work, and even if they did, enough people wouldn’t wear them (at least properly) to avoid spreading the diseases.
A new scientific review by the Cochrane Library says masks made little difference in offering protection from COVID-19. Before you discount the research, note that Cochrane Reviews are widely considered the gold standard of evidence-based medicine. They use a strict methodology to systematically evaluate and assess the quality of the evidence. Researchers also work with expert editorial teams, and findings undergo intense scrutiny through peer reviews.
This could have significant implications for the future, and I’ll explain why below.
The study was conducted by 12 esteemed researchers from highly respected universities from around the world. They concluded that widespread masking did nothing to curb the spread of the virus.
On the surface, that appeared blatantly obvious to anyone who contracted the sickness yet wore a mask everywhere they went.
The researchers compared those who wore medical/surgical masks to those who wore nothing. They discovered, “wearing a mask may make little to no difference in how many people caught a flu-like illness/COVID-like illness (nine studies; 276,917 people); and probably makes little or no difference in how many people have flu/COVID confirmed by a laboratory test (six studies; 13,919 people).”
Then they evaluated those who wore medical/surgical masks to those who wore N95 respirators and concluded “wearing N95/P2 respirators probably makes little to no difference in how many people have confirmed flu (five studies; 8407 people); and may make little to no difference in how many people catch a flu-like illness (five studies; 8407 people), or respiratory illness (three studies; 7799 people).”
So, did the government overreach?
I’m not interested in going into conspiracy theories. I’ll leave that to others more skilled in such matters.
Most importantly, this study undermines the government’s credibility among a sizable portion of the population who were skeptical of the mandates. When it became evident that masks weren’t preventing the fast spread of the virus, the CDC, the federal government, and numerous states doubled down.
Instead of offering scientific data, health policy experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and President Joe Biden didn’t answer the scientific questions. Instead, it became a “we said so” thing and implied if people didn’t listen to them, they weren’t following the science.
At the same time, these supposed experts knew the science wasn’t settled. What they did was create an emotional response and manipulate people’s fears. In turn, skeptics pushed back and rebelled. The authorities may have had the best intentions. Still, that’s not good enough. History is ripe with good intentions gone wrong.
Trust is hard to earn. Yet, it’s easy to destroy.
What happens the next time something comes along, and our lives really do depend on our trust in the government? For something like masking to work, it requires everyone to be consistent across the population.
Our political environment is so toxic right now that few trust the government or one another. How can you blame them when non-political governmental agencies got involved in the politics of the pandemic?
Perhaps the bigger question is how do we get back to trusting those we entrust to watch out for our best interests? Is it possible to return to an era when citizens looked up to the government as something good and positive for the whole of society? It has happened before. Perhaps I’m nostalgic, romantic, and idealistic, but it seems that it occurred during the era of IKE and JFK.
We need leaders worthy of trust.
Perhaps that’s too obvious? I don’t pretend to have the answers. Still, until we all agree there is a problem, we can’t find one that the overwhelming majority can agree on.
Let’s hope we find a uniting figure who can inspire the nation, do the right and big things, and earn Americans’ trust.
There I go again…
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