By Barry Shaw
Around the world there is a manic mask mandate on steroids. But do masks stop the spread of COVID-19?
The answer depends on who you ask. That's science for you. It's precociously contrarian at a time you want definitive answers.
If you had followed the American experts, from the Centers for Disease Control to Dr. Anthony Fauci, you would have seen a 180-degree swing in statements about masks. And yet, despite the bold certainty of both that masks prevent the spread of COVID-19, there are studies that cast doubt on that certainty.
A Danish mask study, a 4,800-person randomized trial that took place in the spring and early summer, found little statistical difference in infection rates between a group that wore masks and a group that didn't.
Ultimately, 42 of 2,393 people (1.8%) in the mask group and 53 of 2,470 (2.1%) in the no-mask group became infected.
Dr. Christine Laine, editor-in-chief of the Annals of Internal Medicine, said masks "are not a magic bullet."
"There are people who say, 'I'm fine, I'm wearing a mask.' They need to realize they are not invulnerable to infection," she said.
A study by the Institute of Medical Science at Tokyo University published Oct. 21 found that medical masks (surgical and even N95 masks) could not completely block the transmission of virus droplets or aerosols, even when sealed.
N95 respirators and surgical masks prevent pathogens from infecting others, but the jury is out on the effectiveness of the flimsy cotton masks worn by most of the public. There is an assumption that cloth masks offer at least some protection, but evidence of the benefit from cloth masks is scarce.
The standard view is expressed by Dr. John Brooks, chief medical officer of the CDC's COVID-19 response program.
"The more people who wear a mask, the more the community is protected and therefore the more you individually benefit. It's like a herd effect," Brooks said. "We believe strongly that universal masking policies can help avert shutdowns."
If that were so, why are so many countries enforcing both mask-wearing and lockdowns?
Dr. Thomas Frieden, chief executive of the advocacy group Resolve to Save Lives and former director of the CDC, tried to put a positive spin on the issue.
"An N95 mask is better than a surgical mask," Frieden said. "A surgical mask is better than most cloth masks. A cloth mask is better than nothing."
Basically, these health experts tack on masks after recommending social distancing and handwashing. They prescribe masks to allow society to go about their business, claiming that this additional step may prevent drastic lockdowns, another scourge on society. But they enforce lockdowns anyway.
Sweden is a country that defied both mask-wearing and lockdowns.
Anders Tegnell, chief epidemiologist for the Swedish public health authority, has relied heavily on the public adopting a strategy of herd immunity to allow them to build up antibodies. Although admitting that the use of masks could be considered when visiting busy and confined places, he has been against mass mask mandates.
"The evidence is weak," he told Science magazine. "Countries that have masks are not doing the best right now. It is very dangerous to try to believe that masks are a silver bullet."
Swedish authorities actively discouraged people from wearing face masks which, they said, would spread panic, are often worn the wrong way and can provide a false sense of safety.
In Sweden, they took active steps to prevent fear from influencing their open society to the extent that individuals, particularly medical professionals, were punished for wearing a mask.
Agnieszka Howoruszko, an ophthalmologist at a regional hospital in Landskrona, began to wear a mask in March when she examined patients. She was twice reprimanded but was allowed to continue wearing a mask after explaining that she worked with elderly and vulnerable patients. The big mistake that Sweden made was not protecting their elderly, a section of society more prone to the ravages of COVID-19, which resulted in their high death rates.
Dorota Szlosowska, a pulmonologist who worked at Sundsvall regional hospital, was not as lucky as the Landskrona doctor. Her work contract was not renewed because she constantly wore a mask.
Sweden is resisting pressure from the World Health Organization and the European Union health agency ECDC to wear masks. And Tegnell insists Sweden's numbers have gone down since routines were improved at nursing homes and people now stay home when they are sick, work from home and respect social distancing.
"To try to replace those measures with face masks won't work," Tegnell said Aug. 14. "Several countries that introduced masks are now seeing big resurgences."
He seems to be right. Graphs of several European countries show spikes in COVID-19 cases after the imposition of mask mandates.
So should we follow the scientists? The issue is which scientists.
Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, said about Remdesivir on April 29: "Remdesivir has a clear-cut significant positive effect in diminishing time to recovery for patients with COVID-19. This will be the standard of care. A drug that can block this virus."
We can trust science, can't we? Well, apparently we can't.
A month later, Dr. Peter Breggin released a report titled "Fauci's Remdesivir: Inadequate to Treat COVID-19 and Potentially Lethal." His opening statement read, "We have found that Remdesivir is a failed antiviral drug that will probably do more harm than good for many coronavirus patients."
As Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, a New York state physician who has treated thousands of COVID-19 patients, told me in August: "For early stage COVID-19 patients Hydroxychloroquine is much safer than Remdesivir. Remdesivir causes dangerous cardiovascular problems such as atrial fibrillation (6%), hypotension (8%), and cardiac arrest (1%). Remdesivir also causes hepatic toxicity (23%), kidney damage (19%), and serious lung damage (10%) such as ARDS."
So whose science are we supposed to follow? Certainly not that of Dr. Fauci.
Meanwhile, Dr. Zelenko was demonized and pilloried by the health bureaucrats, Big Pharma and the media for successsfully treating early stage COVID-19 patients with a simple off-label drug called hydroxychloroquine, combined with zinc and azithromycin, an antibiotic.
His theory was that it is possible to cure COVID-19 patients in the early stage when the infection is flu-like, preventing them from deteriorating into the pneumonia stage of the disease, which requires hospitalization and more severe treatment.
From the numerous interviews I have conducted with physicians, patients and researchers, the overwhelming evidence is that the Zelenko protocol works and saves lives. There is a science behind it, and it is based on a drug that has been found to be safe for more than 60 years.
Clinical trials for hydroxychloroquine were administered to late-stage COVID patients, often in dangerously high doses.
The trials were doomed to failure and the results, together with a Lancet article, which was shown to be fraudulent and retracted, were used to enforce a ban on outpatient doctors and local clinics from prescribing HCQ to early stage COVID-19 patients.
Epidemiologist Harvey Risch of the Yale School of Public Health says the results of the late-stage clinical trials of HCQ were irrelevant because the drug was never meant to be prescribed for hospitalized patients.
This cheap drug continues to be available to lupus patients, including pregnant women and those breast-feeding babies. I interviewed one such person in one of my videos: a young mother who came down with COVID-19 and took HCQ according to the Zelenko protocol while breast-feeding her baby.
"I didn't want to go to hospital and die," she told me.
She didn't. She got better in a matter of three days.
I have concluded that the ban on HCQ for outpatient use in Israel has been a contributing factor to the significant rise in the COVID-19 death rate in the country.
Toward the end of Israel's first COVID-19 wave, the number of mortalities were in the low 300s. As Israel struggles to emerge from the second wave, the death total approaches 3,000.
Why the drastic difference? Could it be the ban placed by Israel's public health bureaucrats on outpatient doctors and clinics from prescribing the drug that dare not speak its name to their patients has caused many more people to become seriously infected and die?
In the absence of any contrary reason, this provocative question still stands.
As Risch explained to me: "If you want to enforce effective lockdowns, keep every person in your society in long-term lockdown, until there are zero daily infections. Then keep them there for another two to three weeks to ensure there will be no recurrence of the virus. Anything less than that merely postpones the inevitable – another spike in the infection rate."
Of course, he said, no country can possibly survive such drastic measures.
He was right. The cure cannot be worse than the problem.
I predict we will see the ravaging damage of the current lockdown by early next year on our streets when the homeless have nowhere to go but to the sidewalks and parks of our major cities.
The public health establishment and our politicians ignored the obvious signs of a society in breakdown.
The economic, mental, physical and sociological health of our community cannot be nurtured in lockdown.
Spousal violence is resulting in murder against women as the stress of unemployment and the consequential inability to pay rent, rates, energy costs drive people to drugs, drink and despair.
This damage was not caused by a virus from China. It was caused by bad leadership.
And we have yet to ponder the troubling thought of what we are not being told about the vaccines that may be forced on us.
Before you rush to get yourself injected, have you any idea for how long you will remain virus free? A year? A month?
The CDC guideline says "we won't know how long immunity lasts until we have a vaccine and more data on how well it works."
Are there long-term side effects? Nobody knows.
Barry Shaw is the senior associate at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. He is the author of several books and has produced several videos on aspects of COVID-19.