If masks worked as advertised, Nevada wouldn’t be experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases.
On Tuesday, Gov. Steve Sisolak held a surprisingly good press conference. Aside from a passive-aggressive swipe at President Donald Trump, he did exactly what he should have been doing for months — nothing. He updated Nevadans about the state’s increase in coronavirus cases and announced no new restrictions. That’s the appropriate response when Nevada hospitals have plenty of capacity.
“We expected the cases to increase a little bit as we released some of the” restrictions, he said.
He’s finally found the middle ground. Inform the public about the data but don’t panic. After months of needless shutdowns and whiplash-inducing reversals, this is a welcome change. Whether he stays on this course if Trump pulls off a re-election surprise is another question.
He even called on the Clark County School District to reopen its doors safely. “It is my desire to get kids back in the classroom,” he said.
That’s positive stuff, but one part of his appeal didn’t make sense.
If you want to reopen schools and jobs, “this is what it takes. This mask. This is the key,” King Sisolak said. “In a situation that can seem complex, it’s really very simple.”
In June, when King Sisolak issued a royal edict mandating masks, that was a plausible contention. Four months later, it’s debatable. The mask mandate started on June 26. Nevada’s 14-day test positivity rate didn’t start dropping until early August.
If wearing masks were the key to stamping out the coronavirus, the pandemic would be over. Nevadans have been donning them for months. Instead, Sisolak is warning about an uptick in cases.
This isn’t unique to Nevada.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mask order went into effect on May 1. Its cases are up sevenfold since mid-June. In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers imposed a mask mandate on Aug. 1. Since then, its case numbers have tripled. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a mask mandate in July. Its cases have since doubled. All data are from The COVID Tracking Project and are seven-day averages.
This isn’t solely an American problem. Italy has had mask mandates and other restrictions for months. It’s experiencing a second wave of cases anyway. Just wait until Democrats find out Trump runs Italy in his spare time.
Even research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cast doubt on the usefulness of face masks. A review of 10 random-control trials “found no significant reduction in influenza transmission with the use of face masks,” the CDC found in May.
“One study found that on average only 1 percent of the times that a surgical mask was put on (range: 0 percent to 7 percent across six models) resulted in adequate levels of protection,” a 2018 CDC blog post reads. “This is not surprising as loose-fitting facemasks and improvised devices are not designed to seal tightly to the face and thus cannot prevent particles in the air from bypassing the filter and being drawn into the respiratory tract during normal breathing.”
In September, a CDC study showed that 85 percent of those who tested positive for coronavirus wore a mask “always” or “often.”
Dare to point out things like this and you’ll likely be smeared as a “science-denier.” Funny, I thought science involved following the data.
In Denmark, a team of researchers set out to do just that. This spring, they conducted a randomized trial of 6,000 people to see if masks prevented coronavirus infections. Half wore wear masks. Half were the control group. The study is complete, but as of this writing, they’ve yet to find a medical journal that will take it.
Thomas Lars Benfield, a lead researcher on the study, said it will be published “as soon as a journal is brave enough to accept the paper.” It’s doubtful that he’d be getting that response if it showed masks worked.
This doesn’t necessary mean masks are useless. Perhaps they are 1 percent effective, as the CDC once suggested. Regardless, masks aren’t the silver bullet many claim.
Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 3 p.m. with Kevin Wall on AM 670 KMZQ Right Talk. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.