Loss of face on masks

Back in the mundane and familiar world of COVID totalitarianism, here’s a graphic that more or less sums up the real-world uselessness of face masks.

It shows the daily case situation in Germany, and in one of its constituent states, Bavaria. You’ll see that a general mask mandate, with fines, was instituted back in April 2020, as the initial epidemic had almost ended, and altered the curve not one jot. Nor did it prevent the much larger surge of cases over the autumn and winter. That phenomenon is pretty much universal across the world.

The more interesting thing is that almost simultaneously this January, Germany mandated the use of surgical masks (presumably at the expense of the cloth masks and visors that remain most commonly seen in the UK), whilst Bavaria went the whole hog and mandated N95 masks, the gold-standard hospital type masks that cost a lot more and form the basis for the only hospital studies that show any significant protection from viral infections.

As before, the epidemic was already in precipitous decline, to which neither mandate appears to have made the slightest difference, and neither mandate prevented another big surge in cases just one month later, either.

Most significant of all is that Bavaria tracks the wider German picture almost exactly after the divergence in mask mandates, and in fact does slightly worse in the subsequent surge. In practice on the ground, then, which is the only thing that matters when laws are passed, there is no benefit whatsoever from using N95 masks over surgical masks. And there is no indication that in Germany either is superior to generic masks, or that generic masks are any better than no masks at all.


Now, some additional context is provided by this recent study, which showed a 50% reduction in aerosol transmission from N95-equivalent masks (the other 50% dispersing mainly upwards above the wearer’s head), and a mere 12% reduction for blue surgical masks, and 10% for cloth masks. But the researchers also found that even moderate room-ventilation out-performed the best masks.

It is important to note, though, that this study was performed under laboratory conditions, using seated manikins and, presumably, fresh masks properly applied and not fingered, dropped to the neck to speak or kept in pockets whilst people move around. This is not how things are in public life, and so it is no real surprise that the benefits of N95 masks over surgical masks are not seen in the German case numbers. And quite apart from the lack of any visible effects when mask mandates were first imposed in Germany (or anywhere else in the world), one can say that if N95 masks, which are in theory five times better, are in practice the same, then it is highly unlikely that the near-negligible 10% advantage of masks over no-masks will be seen in the real world.

A useful little graphic, that.

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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5 Responses to Loss of face on masks

  1. Elizabeth B. says:

    Jon,
    Hello, again.

    Could you link to the source of this chart – I zoomed in to try to read the source but it is blurred.

    I am so frustrated because some on both sides of the vaccine/anti vaccine, mask/anti-mask debates can appear to make a strong case.

    I suspect at least some folks of bombarding with numbers and unclear charts in order to hoodoo a number of us into believing whatever it is they want us to believe. Not that this is one of those. At this point, I know nothing.

    Here is a Substack by a Baylor epidemiologist I began following in order that I could have something from the pro-vaccine side that seemed reasonable. Actually, I don’t yet know if she is reasonable or not, she is just more measured than some. Still, very much pro vaccine and pro mask. So, maybe you can look at this post, Schools and Churches: Here’s the Data On Why Masks Work Against Delta, and see what you think. https://emilysmith.substack.com/p/schools-and-churches-heres-the-data?token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjoyODU5MDg2LCJwb3N0X2lkIjo0MDQ3NTk5OCwiXyI6IkhGcThmIiwiaWF0IjoxNjI5OTE4Mjk4LCJleHAiOjE2Mjk5MjE4OTgsImlzcyI6InB1Yi0zNjY1MzUiLCJzdWIiOiJwb3N0LXJlYWN0aW9uIn0.WQVsozW7dhu32ppQzLITcwgGA6lmJ8yOw_21Sot_UPc

    If you have time to look at this article, you may well get it sorted out before I get halfway through. It just showed up in my email, so I have only scanned it so far.

    I would love to see reasonable debate between the sides. But the pro-vac/mask side diminishes the other side with name-calling. I have not been able to find any kind of one-on-one debates. True scientific debates.

    I also started following, https://shinjieyong.medium.com. This is a Malaysian freelance medical writer who, ostensibly, looks at both sides. He always seems to ultimately come down on the pro-vac side. But he at least attempts a look at both sides. Much better than anyone I have seen.

    A scientist that I am trying to follow is Dr Sucharit Bhakdi, who unfortunately can only be found on supposed “far right” websites due to widespread cancellation. I watched a video where he explains what he thinks is potentially dangerous about the vaccines. Honestly, as a non-scientist, it sure sounds logical to me. Wondering if you have come across any of his writings or videos.

    Anyway, enough for now.

    Thanks!!

    • Jon Garvey says:

      The graphic came from the excellent Swiss site, within a review article on masks in general: https://swprs.org/face-masks-evidence/#c-effectiveness-of-n95-ffp2-mask-mandates.

      It covers some of the “supportive” studies. The Nature article on which the Schools and Churches article relies heavily is another modelling study that does not examine actual data. One has to ask how, if studies of N95 masks in controlled settings show only modest protection, cloth masks in schools or communities reduce infections by 75%.

      The answer is obvious if you compare the infection rates and death rates of communities with compulsory masking to those without. Countries with mandates should have 1/4 of the case numbers, right?

  2. Elizabeth B. says:

    Jon, thanks for all the information you provide. I really do appreciate it. Yes, one would think those with mandates would have a fraction of cases, if the claims of effectiveness were correct.

    That was especially interesting about the N95 masks.

    • Jon Garvey says:

      That was especially interesting about the N95 masks.

      Not really surprising, though: N95s have to be fitted carefully and discarded after 1 session (3 hours, or thereabouts). They cast around £1 each in UK. So you make a regional law mandating that they are used – but how many are going to even know how to use them properly, and be willing to spend that much money anyway?

      When we opened up the church after “Freedom Day” my pharmacist co-elder (who thinks like me on this) got hold of some N95 masks for worried people to use instead of their usual ones in the service. Conceivably it might have some effect in that single-use situation, but I don’t think anybody’s been bothered to take them up: even believers are more interested in being seen to comply than in survival.

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