Now that the students have finally headed back to school, there is a hotly-contested debate storming on regarding these mask mandates! The main gist of the argument is that many wonder if the mandates should dictate whether K-12 children should wear the face masks in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 or should they be left alone completely. Well, one peer-reviewed study seems to be supporting the latter. This study is suggesting that these mask mandates had little to no effect in regards to the spread of the virus, and really didn’t aid in reducing the spread of it in the least.
Researchers from the University of Louisville examined COVID-19 case growth and checked the data for mask use as well. Ultimately, they determined that by comparing states with mask use and states without it, they simply found that “mask mandates and use likely did not affect COVID-19 case growth.”
“For our study, we wanted to determine if effects of mask mandates and use were observable in the general population,” Dr. Damian Guerra, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Louisville, said. “Essentially, did the theory of mask effectiveness hold up on a population-wide level?”
Guerra first observed that there was a widespread acceptance of mask use as a means to mitigate COVID-19. Thus, there was also a need to evaluate just how effective that policy was. That is why he told one right-wing news source in an email that the previous studies utilizing mannequin experiments, theoretical models, and other case studies had provided conflicting results. That is why his study used states that didn’t have mask mandates as a control group.
There is no question that these results completely contradict the popular belief that mask mandates effectively combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“It appears that mandates and typical mask use among the public have no substantial impact on COVID-19 growth,” Guerra said. “Early in the pandemic (Summer 2020), there was an association between lower infection rates and mask mandates and use. However, this association disappeared when transmission levels rose despite increased mask use in the Fall and Winter.
“While growth rates did decline in states after mask mandates became effective, rates declined to a similar degree in states without mandates,” he added.
This illustrates the fact that mask wearing has become politicized and thereby very controversial, with all kinds of heated arguments between those who support the mask mandates and those who do not. A recent AXIOS/IPSOS poll notes that a majority of at least 69% of Americans believe in mask mandates in their school, but these opinions are sharply divided among various political ideologies. Moreover, there are plenty of Democrats who overwhelmingly support these mask mandates in schools (92%), but at the same time just 44% of GOP members support these mandates.
The U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone who has not been vaccinated against COVID-19 and who is older than age 2 should wear a mask in any type of indoor public space.
Moreover, the Delta variant of the virus continues to fuel fears that the unmasked students and school faculty could spread disease more rapidly and endanger more children who are already susceptible to the virus, such as those who may have preexisting health conditions or weaker immune systems. Moreover, many states have responded to this CDC guidance by implementing many mandatory mask mandates with the main goal of reducing the virus.
On the other hand, there are plenty of parents who have objected to a mask mandate out of concern for their children’s mental, emotional and physical health. These parents also have a legitimate concern that their children might be inhaling carbon dioxide by wearing the mask all day.
When they were asked about weighing out the risks versus the benefits of the mask mandate, Guerra said that his study coheres with earlier randomized controlled trials that did not find any possibility that the surgical masks lower probability of the COVID-19 infection.
“Simulations with mannequins and theoretical calculations also support this, as virus-containing aerosols efficiently escape from masks that are not fitted respirators. Aerosols would presumably accumulate to a steady state level in congregant settings to enable infection levels like those in non-masked settings,” he explained.
“However, this process is time dependent, so it is possible that a simple surgical or cloth mask could offer some protection in a passing encounter of short duration. For workplaces or schools, where people congregate for hours at a time, you would expect much less protection.”
Guerra also noted that many of his studies showed that N-95 masks showed that they were much more effective in curbing the COVID-19 infection rate. However, the CDC has not mandated these masks for regular individuals and wants them to be saved for health care workers.
“Surgical or cloth masks are safe for most people for short periods of time. However, chronic use is associated with enhanced susceptibility to skin barrier breakdown due to pH changes in facial skin. This can promote subsequent infection by bacteria,” he explained.
“Repeatedly taking off and putting on the same mask, touching a mask with unwashed hands, or wearing a used mask increase the likelihood of upper respiratory tract infections,” he added, noting that health care workers have reported greater fatigue, headaches, and psychological stress from mask-wearing. The study also notes that masks can “interfere with social learning in children.”
The best methods for reducing spread of COVID-19 continue to be “vaccination, improved building ventilation, and freely available N95-type respirators for high-risk individuals.”
“Children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination, but the risk of serious COVID-19 illness in children is lower than the risk of serious flu illness,” Guerra said. “For reference, less than 0.1% of COVID-19 deaths are children. For higher risk adults and children, N95-type respirators could be made freely available and social distancing encouraged. In addition, people should be encouraged to stay home if they have respiratory symptoms and/or a positive SARS-COV-2 PCR test.”
Guerra emphasized that his study should not be considered “a comprehensive referendum on all masks in all scenarios.”
“Theoretical and mannequin studies suggest that mask efficacy against viral pathogens is influenced by multiple factors, including respiratory fluence rates, viral load and contagiousness, exposure time, and mask type,” he said, adding that “N95-type respirators (KN95, R95, P95, etc.) can filter viral aerosols, whereas surgical and cloth masks do not.”
“Surgical and cloth masks may offer marginal protection during short duration encounters with low viral loads by slowing droplet emission, but the probability of infection is already low in these instances. For longer duration encounters and/or congregant settings where aerosols tend to accumulate, surgical and cloth masks are considerably less effective.”