Jury still out on the effectiveness of face masks

Cache County Council member Paul Borup says that medical experts are by no mean unanimous in their opinions about the effectiveness of face mask mandates.

CACHE COUNTY – Regular messaging from the medical community indicates that wearing a face covering is the most effective preventive measure we can all take to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, some medical experts say that conventional wisdom may not be true at all.

Before Mayor Holly Daines’ face mask mandate took effect for Logan residents and visitors over the weekend, the members of the Cache County Council were already discussing myths and misconceptions about mask wearing.

Council member Paul Borup conducted an admittedly unscientific review of recent medical scholarship and found mixed messages about both the practical and psychological benefits of mask wearing in our current situation.

“We all know that there’s been a lot of discussion (about the pandemic),” Borup told fellow council members on July 28. “We’ve received a lot of letters, in which people go on and on about ‘science’ based on reports they’ve read in the press. But what do those reports really mean?”

As far back as 2006, Borup found, some bio-terrorism experts were dubious about the effectiveness of mask wearing.

“Studies have shown that the ordinary surgical mask does little to prevent inhalation of small droplets bearing influenza virus,” according to an article entitled “Disease Measures in the Control of Pandemic Influenza” in the Biodefense Strategy, Practice and Science journal.

That same article argued that “… disease mitigation measures, however well-intentioned, have potential social, economic and political consequences that need to be fully considered by political leaders as well as health officials … Experience has shown that communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social function of the community is least disrupted.”

Some local business owners, who are now no strangers to economic disruption, are equally doubtful about the benefits of the Logan mask mandate.

They question whether Daines’ executive order was even necessary, coming as it did when COVID-19 infection rates were already trending downward in the Bear River Health District.

Given that the local business community has been suffering from the loss of revenue from tourism since early spring, Daines’ widely-publicized mask mandate also seems guarantied to further alienate visitors while signaling that city officials are tone deaf to business owners’ concerns.

More recent medical scholarship indicates that the benefits of mask wearing in the midst of our current coronavirus pandemic might be more psychological than real. A May 21 article in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that face masks tend to serve a symbolic role as “… talismans that may help to increase … a perceived sense of safety, well-being and trust …”

But a misguided sense of safety may be as dangerous as the disease itself, according to Dr. Antonio I. Lazzarino of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care at the University College London.

In an open letter dated April 20, Lazzarino argues the most practicing epidemiologists agree that there are two potential drawbacks to wearing surgical face masks in public.

The first of those, he wrote, is that “… wearing a face mask may give a false sense of security and make people adopt a reduction in compliance with other infection control measures, including social distancing and hand washing.”

The second problem is that most mask-wearers use them inappropriately, he added.

“People must not touch their masks and must change their single use masks frequently or wash them regularly,” Lazzarino emphasized. “Otherwise, their risk and those of others may increase.”

A posting on the website Politico suggests, however, that the actual pros and cons of mask wearing are largely irrelevant because a face covering has become just another symbol of affiliation in the ongoing culture war between American liberals and conservatives.

“Wearing a mask is for smug liberals,” Politico noted. “Refusing to (wear masks) is for reckless Republicans. Prominent people who don’t wear them are shamed and dragged on Twitter by lefty accounts. On the right, where the mask is often seen as the symbol of purported overreaction to the coronavirus, mask promotion is a target of ridicule.”

In his summary to fellow Cache County council members, Borup mentioned that communist officials in China seem solidly in favor of mask mandates.

A recent analysis of the mask debate by Brigham Young University noted that: “The head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that the biggest mistake that Europe and the U.S. were making in tackling COVID-19 was their failure to promote the widespread usage of face masks in public.”

“And you can take that for exactly what it’s worth,” Borup quipped.

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  • Free Bird August 3, 2020 at 5:51 pm Reply

    Dictator daines can take her marxists mandate and stuff it. There is no way I am going to spend a penny in Logan City (I feel sorry for the businesses, as this is a growing trend) as long there is a mandate that I have to walk around looking like a sheep, for no reason.
    There are many close by cities that are both business and customer friendly.

    • S August 3, 2020 at 7:41 pm Reply

      Me…me….me…..me..is all your reply sounds like…..get OUT of yourself and think of someone other than yourself.

      • Free Bird August 3, 2020 at 8:01 pm Reply

        So are you telling me how to spend my money? My money is mine, not yours, and I sure as hell am not going to buy you anything. That is the problem with you liberals, whatever is mine is mine, but whatever is yours is mine too. Does your mommy know you are on the internet in her basement?

        • Bo August 4, 2020 at 8:50 am Reply

          And yet, you’re the one that sounds like a baby right now.

      • prince albert August 3, 2020 at 9:06 pm Reply

        S, I have read your post for weeks now and you bring nothing to the table with your pathetic posts. It seems like you are trying to troll people but you are weak at that. Please for your own sake, take off your mask occasionally and get some oxygen to your brain. Sad.

    • KA August 3, 2020 at 8:38 pm Reply

      Thank God idiots like you aren’t in charge.

  • yorgus August 3, 2020 at 8:27 pm Reply

    “Reviewing” articles does not mean what Mr. Schill thinks it does. Ask anyone with a PhD at USU. It does not mean cherry-picking a few articles which agree with your pre-determined outcome.

    The preponderance of literature and healthcare experts are in agreement that masks help. They aren’t 100% effective, but they DO provide about 70% effectiveness. If two people are both wearing masks, and maintain a distance of 5-10′ between them, the risk of transmission is nearly zero.

    Please, Mr. Schill, are you really this dense? It isn’t a first or second (or any other) amendment right.

  • Brittany August 3, 2020 at 8:29 pm Reply


  • Ken August 3, 2020 at 9:47 pm Reply

    Thank you for having the courage to write an article questioning the effectiveness of masks. Questions need to be asked, and non emotional debate needs to happen within the media.

  • Nibley Resident August 3, 2020 at 10:30 pm Reply

    This is a very poorly researched and written news report, if that’s what it purports to be. Anyone wanting factual unbiased information on the effects of mask wearing on coronavirus transmission needs only to go to https://www.nih.gov/ or https://www.cdc.gov/ and click the relevant links or do a search for that information. And a real reporter, having interviewed the county council members and others quoted here, would have gone to the above two sites and fact-checked the quotes against actual medical research.

    Instead, we get on what purports to be a news site a rambling set of quotations from a county council that appears to be stuck in a 1950s time warp, and quips and quotes from the tin-helmet crowd here in the comments section. Disappointing, to say the least.

  • A Healthcare Worker August 4, 2020 at 7:17 am Reply

    This article is not at all an accurate reflection of current consensus in the world of medical science. As science has evolved since earlier this year, the following points are widely agreed upon: 1) SARS-COV2 spreads through droplets and aerosols, 2) masks attenuate the emission of droplets and aerosol while speaking or coughing, and 3) epidemiologic analyses shows reduced rates of infection when masks are implemented. One has to step around lots of good research to think otherwise.

    Mr. Schill has his right to free speech, but this kind of thinking ignores the larger body of evidence. The misinformation presented here is frankly potentially dangerous as it will likely impact behavior.

  • pablo August 4, 2020 at 7:21 am Reply

    Only Trumpsters could take a health issue like this and turn it into a Communist conspiracy. All of the reputable infectious disease authorities recommend wearing masks. Only grim upside of this is that not doing all we can to control this epidemic may increase the possibility that Trump will not be re-elected. Of course then he won’t vacate the office claiming a “rigged” election.

    • KA August 4, 2020 at 9:54 am Reply

      His supporters aren’t the crunchiest chips in the bag, that’s for sure. Not everything is a conspiracy theory – don’t flatter yourself.

      • Free Bird August 4, 2020 at 8:00 pm Reply

        Now here are two of Biden’s best supporters. Oh wait, he is still hiding in his basement. I look forward to the debates, what? Biden doesn’t want a debate?

  • Candle August 4, 2020 at 10:59 am Reply

    Great article Charlie. There are no random clinical trials (RCTs) showing masks are effective at stopping or slowing viral spread. In fact, over the last decade or so, there have been several that conclude masks are essentially useless. RCTs are the Cadillacs of science and research. Unfortunately, we have traded the Cadillac for “observational” and/or “correlation = causation” studies that aren’t all that scientific. Too many unaccounted variables to achieve any level of certainty. There are reasons several countries – including Denmark, Sweden, etc – have never issued mandates requiring masks. Thankfully, scientists from Denmark have conducted a Covid-specific RCT and will release their findings soon. That may provide a more definitive answer to the question of masks and mandates.

  • Barbie August 4, 2020 at 3:21 pm Reply

    Borup citing The Politico as a credible health or science source is a new low for our local government, which is tough to beat (thank you, Gordon Zilles). The Politico is a political tabloid—it’s like citing TMZ or DailyMail. It has zero credibility since it’s entirely speculation. They break news about politicians having affairs and what aides leaked what. Their more serious articles regurgitate news from other news sites. They’re not in the business of writing credible health stories. Moreover, where masks falls on the political spectrum says nothing about their effectiveness. They are two separate issues and I’m troubled to see Borup mingling the two. Borup shouldn’t decry the politicalization of masks and then talk about how mask wearing boils down to what party you’re in.

    Charlie Schill: Borup’s flawed reasoning aside, this was a poorly written article. It reads as an editorial, which is fine, but don’t present this as news journalism. With a headline like “the jury is still out” you need to cite better sources than your cherry picked and outdated journal article (which was published in 2006). Citing a city council member as a science source is obviously problematic. Better to title your article, “I don’t want to wear a face mask and here’s why”. Or, “I’m too lazy to do my own research but here’s what someone local said.” There’s no jury here other than your cadre of local idiots.

  • K MS August 4, 2020 at 8:19 pm Reply

    How effective are different types of face masks? Which cloth masks work the best?

    Different types have different levels of effectiveness, according to researchers at Florida Atlantic University.

    They compared four types of face masks commonly used by the public: a stitched mask with two layers of fabric, a commercial cone mask, a folded handkerchief, and a bandana. Researchers tested each to see which would likely offer the most protection if someone coughed or sneezed.

    — The stitched mask with two layers of fabric performed the best, with droplets traveling only 2.5 inches.

    — With a cone-style mask, the droplets traveled about 8 inches.

    — A folded handkerchief performed worse, with droplets traveling 1 foot, 3 inches.

    — The bandana gave the least amount of protection of the cloth masks tested, with droplets traveling 3 feet.

    — Still, any kind of cloth mask is better than none, the researchers found. Without any covering, droplets were able to travel 8 feet.

    “People need to know that wearing masks can reduce transmission of the virus by as much as 50%, and those who refuse are putting their lives, their families, their friends, and their communities at risk,” said Dr. Christopher, director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

  • S August 5, 2020 at 2:36 pm Reply

    “A posting on the website Politico suggests, however, that the actual pros and cons of mask wearing are largely irrelevant because a face covering has become just another symbol of affiliation in the ongoing culture war between American liberals and conservatives.”

    Masks have become politicized, like anything else in our country. How does that have anything to do with the pros and cons of wearing a mask? The politicization doesn’t mean their almost certain benefits are irrelevant, it means people are idiots for resisting them based on politics alone.

    If you continue to take necessary precautions, a mask can only help. If you’re not wearing one because you don’t want to “be a sheep”, you’re selfish.

    • Prince Albert August 6, 2020 at 10:23 am Reply

      Wow, you can have an actual thought. Incredibly wrong, but at least you’re trying. Kind of like Basement Joe Biden.
      Keep on saving my life by wearing the diaper on your face. Just have someone change it once in a while and clean you up.

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