Masks — The Most Controversial COVID-19 Debate?

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

Story at-a-glance -

  • Science clearly shows face coverings of various kinds do little if anything to prevent respiratory illnesses caused by aerosolized viruses
  • Influenza viruses — coronaviruses that cause the common cold and SARS-CoV-2 — all spread via the air, not just via droplets or touching contaminated surfaces. Preventing droplet contamination does not mean you also prevent the transmission of the aerosolized virus
  • SARS-CoV-2 is a beta-coronavirus with a diameter between 60 nanometers (nm) and 140 nm, or 0.06 to 0.14 microns (micrometers). Virus-laden saliva or respiratory droplets expelled when talking or coughing measure between 5 and 10 microns
  • N95 masks can filter particles as small as 0.3 microns, so they may prevent a majority of respiratory droplets from escaping, but not aerosolized viruses. Lab testing has shown 3M surgical masks can block up to 75% of particles measuring between 0.02 microns and 1 micron while cloth masks block between 30% and 60% of respiratory particles of this size
  • Regardless of the mask, it will not prevent you from exhaling or inhaling the aerosolized virus, but cloth masks are clearly the least preferable option if you actually want to reduce the spread of infection, as their ability to block respiratory droplets is also limited

The question of whether we should wear face masks or not to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is a hotly contested issue. Part of the confusion may be related to the difference between viral particles spread via respiratory droplets, and viral particles spread via the air itself.

I believe it's important to realize the difference between these two modes of transmission, and to not overestimate the protection you can get or give others by wearing a mask.

The science1,2 clearly shows face coverings of various kinds do little if anything to prevent respiratory illnesses caused by aerosolized viruses. Many health authorities still insist that something is better than nothing, though, since they do inhibit the dissemination of viral-laden respiratory droplets.

But influenza viruses — coronaviruses that cause the common cold and SARS-CoV-2 — all spread via the air, not just via droplets or touching contaminated surfaces, and it's important to realize that preventing droplet contamination does not mean you also prevent the transmission of the aerosolized virus. (The aerosol part of transmission is regrettably overlooked in the video above, which reviews a number of problems with mandatory mask recommendations.) 

Size Matters

SARS-CoV-2 is an aerosolized virus, meaning it floats in the air. One of the issues at hand is the size of the virus. If the gaps in the mask are larger than the virus, it stands to reason it cannot block the virus from entering or escaping the mask.

SARS-CoV-2 is a beta-coronavirus with a diameter between 60 nanometers (nm) and 140 nm, or 0.06 to 0.14 microns (micrometers).3 This is about half the size of most viruses, which tend to measure between 0.02 microns to 0.3 microns.4

Virus-laden saliva or respiratory droplets expelled when talking or coughing, however, measure between 5 and 10 microns.5 N95 masks can filter particles as small as 0.3 microns,6 so they may prevent a majority of respiratory droplets from escaping, but not aerosolized viruses.

Lab testing7 has shown 3M surgical masks can block up to 75% of particles measuring between 0.02 microns and 1 micron, while cloth masks block between 30% and 60% of respiratory particles of this size. For cloth masks, cotton-chiffon, cotton-silk hybrids, and high thread count cotton materials provide the best droplet filtration. As reported by the Emergency Medicine News journal:8

"Mueller, et al.,9 placed a particle counter inside various masks worn by a volunteer to sense 0.04 micron NaCl particles aerosolized in ambient air, and found that adding a nylon stocking overlayer to the mask improved virus blockade for all types, including surgical masks. This simple addition improved many of the homemade cloth masks to the baseline level of a surgical mask."

So, in summary, if you are a carrier of the virus, by wearing a surgical mask, you theoretically lower the amount of viral-laden respiratory droplets that you deposit into your environment by about 75%.

As such, you could argue that surgical masks lower the overall contamination risk to others if you are a carrier of the virus. If you are infected and wear a surgical mask, others in close proximity will be protected to some degree from getting hit by your contaminated respiratory droplets.

That said, the force by which you expel the droplets also matters. Back in April 2020, a small South Korean study10 found that surgical and cloth masks were unable to block SARS-CoV-2 from the coughs of COVID-19 patients. The journal retracted the paper several weeks later.11,12

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Masks Cannot Block Aerosolized Viruses

The virus is not restricted to respiratory droplets, though. It's also in the air itself, and these aerosolized particles are far tinier. To block these, you'd need a mask that prevents all air flow, and that, of course, wouldn't work, since you need air flow to survive.

Now, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is actually recommending people wear cloth masks — not surgical masks or N95, which they recommend for health care workers only. The problem with this is that not only do cloth masks fail to provide any protection against aerosolized viruses, as noted above, they also provide very little protection in terms of blocking respiratory droplets.

As reported by The National Academies of Sciences in its Rapid Expert Consultation on the Effectiveness of Fabric Masks for the COVID-19 Pandemic report, published April 8, 2020:13

"The evidence from … laboratory filtration studies suggest that … fabric masks may reduce the transmission of larger respiratory droplets. There is little evidence regarding the transmission of small aerosolized particulates of the size potentially exhaled by asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals with COVID-19."

So, regardless of the mask, it will not prevent you from exhaling or inhaling the aerosolized virus, but cloth masks are clearly the least preferable option if you actually want to reduce the spread of infection, as their ability to block respiratory droplets is also limited.

In particular, masks with airflow valves on the front should be avoided, as the valve lets out unfiltered air, thus negating the small benefit you might expect from a mask.14

What We Learned From the Mask for Flu Policy

To put the mask controversy into some perspective, let's compare it to what we learned from the masking for influenza controversy a couple of years back. In September 2018, the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) won its second of two grievances filed against the Toronto Academic Health Science Network's (TAHSN) "vaccinate or mask" (VOM) policy. As reported by the ONA:15

"These policies force nurses and other health-care workers to wear an unfitted surgical mask for the entirety of their shift if they choose not to receive the influenza vaccine.

After reviewing extensive expert evidence submitted by both ONA and St. Michael's Hospital, which was the lead case for the TAHSN group, Arbitrator William Kaplan, in his September 6 decision,16 found that St. Michael's VOM policy is 'illogical and makes no sense' and 'is the exact opposite of being reasonable.' In reaching this conclusion, Arbitrator Kaplan rejected the hospital's evidence.

This is the second such win for ONA. In 2015, Arbitrator James Hayes struck down the same type of policy in an arbitration that included other Ontario hospitals across the province … Hayes found there was 'scant evidence' that forcing nurses to use masks reduced the transmission of influenza to patients.

Despite this clear ruling, the majority of TAHSN hospitals refused to follow the Hayes award and maintained their respective VOM policies. As a result, ONA was forced to litigate this matter again at St. Michael's Hospital …

ONA's well-regarded expert witnesses, including Toronto infection control expert Dr. Michael Gardam, Quebec epidemiologist Dr. Gaston De Serres, and Dr. Lisa Brosseau, an American expert on masks, testified that there was insufficient evidence to support the St. Michael's policy and no evidence that forcing healthy nurses to wear masks during the influenza season did anything to prevent transmission of influenza in hospitals.

They further testified that nurses who have no symptoms are unlikely to be a real source of transmission and that it was not logical to force healthy unvaccinated nurses to mask."

No Direct Evidence Masks Prevent Spread of Influenza

In summary, the ONA argued, and Kaplan agreed, that the rule forcing unvaccinated nurses to wear a surgical mask during flu season to protect patients from influenza was not supported by science and was most likely an attempt to drive up vaccination rates among staff.

TAHSN argued that "The wearing of face masks can serve as a method of source control of infected HCWs [health care workers] who may or may not have symptoms. Masks may also prevent unvaccinated HCWs from as yet unrecognized infected patients or visitors."17 Like the previous arbitrator, Kaplan disagreed.

"I … find that the weight of scientific evidence said to support the VOM Policy on patient safety grounds is insufficient to warrant the imposition of a mask-wearing requirement for up to six months every year.

Absent adequate support for the freestanding patient safety purpose alleged, I conclude that the Policy operates to coerce influenza immunization and, thereby, undermines the collective agreement right of employees to refuse vaccination," Kaplan wrote,18 adding that the TAHSN's mask rule:

"… was made in the admitted absence of direct evidence that mask- wearing HCWs protected patients from influenza; but on the basis of 'indirect evidence [that] suggests it does.'

The only fair words to describe the evidence advanced in support of the masking component of the VOM policy in the THASN report, and in this proceeding, are insufficient, inadequate, and completely unpersuasive."

CDC Now Promotes Mask Wearing for Flu

Despite the lack of supporting science, in its current guidance19 on mask use to prevent the spread of influenza, the CDC calls for health care personnel to wear a surgical mask or fit-tested respirator whenever they're within 6 feet of an influenza patient.

They also now recommend that anyone suspected of having influenza who enters a medical facility should wear a mask "at all times until they are isolated in a private room."

The CDC does point out that "Masks are not usually recommended in non-healthcare settings," and that "No recommendation can be made at this time for mask use in the community by asymptomatic persons, including those at high risk for complications, to prevent exposure to influenza viruses." Still, they add that:

"If unvaccinated high-risk persons decide to wear masks during periods of increased respiratory illness activity in the community, it is likely they will need to wear them any time they are in a public place and when they are around other household members."

When was the last time you wore a mask during influenza season? Never? Me either. Have you ever even heard the CDC recommend mask wearing to prevent the spread of influenza in previous years?

Surgical masks used in healthcare settings such as during surgery are meant to prevent bacterial infections, as bacteria are much larger than viruses.

What has changed is that the CDC is now suggesting mask wearing, both at home and in public during influenza season, might be a good idea. Where's the evidence showing masks help prevent the spread of influenza?

Are masks an effective way to reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses, or are these mask recommendations just another strategy to make the public surrender to irrational medical tyranny that is likely to radically increase implementation of mandatory vaccination? Of course, these vaccinations would not just be for the flu but also COVID-19 once a vaccine becomes available.

Cloth Masks Offer False Sense of Security

April 1, 2020, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) published a commentary20 by retired professor Lisa Brosseau, ScD, and Margaret Sietsema, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Illinois, arguing that mandates calling for the wearing of cloth masks or face coverings in public are "not based on sound data." Both are experts on respiratory protection and infectious diseases. July 16, the following editor's note was added to the article:

"The authors and CIDRAP have received requests in recent weeks to remove this article from the CIDRAP website. Reasons have included: (1) we don't truly know that cloth masks (face coverings) are not effective, since the data are so limited, (2) wearing a cloth mask or face covering is better than doing nothing.

(3) the article is being used by individuals and groups to support non-mask wearing where mandated and (4) there are now many modeling studies suggesting that cloth masks or face coverings could be effective at flattening the curve and preventing many cases of infection."

The addition of that editor's note is more proof that this issue is politically driven. Kudos to CIDRAP for not succumbing to censorship pressure to remove the article entirely, as it makes some excellent points. Among them:

While data for cloth masks are limited, laboratory studies have shown cloth masks "offer very low filter collection efficiency for the smaller inhalable particles we believe are largely responsible for transmission, particularly from pre- or asymptomatic individuals who are not coughing or sneezing."

While the CDC has added several scientific references in support of cloth face coverings to its mask guidelines, upon reviewing them, Brosseau and Sietsema say they "employ very crude, nonstandardized methods or are not relevant to cloth face coverings because they evaluate respirators or surgical masks."

On the issue of whether wearing a cloth mask is better than nothing, Brosseau and Sietsema say "we simply don't know at this point." They also stress there's been "an evolution in the messaging around cloth masks," starting out with warnings that they cannot replace the need for physical distancing, to current messaging saying they're equivalent to physical distancing.

Worse, while cloth masks, at best, can help protect others if you're infected, the CDC and others are now implying cloth masks can also protect the wearer, even though there's no evidence for this at all.

"We are concerned that many people do not understand the very limited degree of protection a cloth mask or face covering likely offers as source control for people located nearby … Cloth masks and face coverings likely do not offer the same degree of protection as physical distancing, isolation, or limiting personal contact time," Brosseau and Sietsema write.

The authors also point out several important facts that have been ignored and overlooked in modeling studies purporting to demonstrate that masks can flatten the curve and lower the case load.

Among them is the fact that "Transmission is not simply a function of short random interactions between individuals, but rather a function of particle concentration in the air and the time exposed to that concentration," and that "A cloth mask or face covering does very little to prevent the emission or inhalation of small particles," which is "an important mode of transmission for SARS-CoV-2."

Surgical Masks Cannot Protect Against Influenza

Articles published before the COVID-19 outbreak also offer evidence that the mask rules are not driven by science but rather by politics. For example, in October 2019, Medical Xpress reported that not only is the influenza vaccine only 15% effective, on average, but wearing a surgical mask is equally ineffective:21

"A study that is often cited as evidence that surgical masks work is a randomized trial from 2009 that compared surgical masks with a specialist mask called an N95 respirator — a mask that fits snugly and filters at least 95% of very small (0.3 micron) particles. 

The study,22 published in JAMA, found that surgical masks were as effective as N95 respirators at preventing the flu, which is to say, not all that effective because, of the 446 nurses who took part in this study, nearly one in four (24%) in the surgical mask group still got the flu as did 23% of those who wore the N95 respirator.

And, because both groups wore masks, it's impossible to say how they would have fared compared with not wearing a mask at all. Basically, there is no strong evidence to support well people wearing surgical masks in public."

In 2019, a review of interventions for flu epidemics published by the World Health Organization also concluded the evidence leaned against using face masks, with the exception of one study that suggested N95 masks may offer some protection:23

"Ten relevant RCTs were identified for this review and meta-analysis to quantify the efficacy of community-based use of face masks, including more than 6000 participants in total. Most trials combined face masks with improved hand hygiene, and examined the use of face masks in infected individuals (source control) and in susceptible individuals.

In the pooled analysis, although the point estimates suggested a relative risk reduction in laboratory-confirmed influenza of 22% in the face mask group, and a reduction of 8% in the face mask group regardless of whether or not hand hygiene was also enhanced, the evidence was insufficient to exclude chance as an explanation for the reduced risk of transmission.

A study suggested that surgical and N95 (respirator) masks were effective in preventing the spread of influenza … There is a moderate overall quality of evidence that face masks do not have a substantial effect on transmission of influenza …

Reusable cloth face masks are not recommended. Medical face masks are generally not reusable, and an adequate supply would be essential if the use of face masks was recommended. If worn by a symptomatic case, that person might require multiple masks per day for multiple days of illness."

We can also look at countries where people routinely wear face masks to protect themselves against air pollution, such as Japan. Despite widespread routine mask wearing out in public, they still suffer major influenza outbreaks.24

Last but not least, face masks must be put on, removed and disposed of properly in order for you to benefit from them. Readers Digest recently published "11 Mistakes You're Probably Making with Face Masks,"25 reviewing all the ways in which you might nullify the mask's benefit.

Where's the Evidence to Support Shift in Mask Guidance?

What are we to make of health mandates that aren't based on compelling scientific evidence? You may recall Dr. Anthony Fauci has flip-flopped on this issue over the past few months, in mid-February telling us:26

"If you look at the masks that you buy in a drug store, the leakage around that doesn't really do much to protect you. People start saying, 'Should I start wearing a mask?' Now, in the United States, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to wear a mask."

March 8, he told 60 Minutes:27

"Right now, in the United States, people should not be walking around with masks. There's no reason to be walking around with a mask. When you're in the middle of an outbreak, wearing a mask may make people feel a little bit better, and it might even stop a droplet, but it's not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is."

By mid-June, he’d reversed course, and was urging everyone to wear a mask. But where is the data supporting this 180-degree shift in position?

Contrary to what you’d assume, even some of the most recently published research claims masks provide little to no benefit. Case in point is a policy review paper28 published in Emerging Infectious Diseases in May 2020 — the CDC’s own journal — which reviews “the evidence base on the effectiveness of nonpharmaceutical personal protective measures … in non-healthcare settings.” According to this policy review:29

“Although mechanistic studies support the potential effect of hand hygiene or face masks, evidence from 14 randomized controlled trials of these measures did not support a substantial effect on transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza. We similarly found limited evidence on the effectiveness of improved hygiene and environmental cleaning.”

Pages 970 to 972 of the review include the following quotes:

“In our systematic review, we identified 10 RCTs [randomized controlled trials] that reported estimates of the effectiveness of face masks in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza virus infections in the community from literature published during 1946–July 27, 2018. In pooled analysis, we found no significant reduction in influenza transmission with the use of face masks …

Disposable medical masks (also known as surgical masks) are loose-fitting devices that were designed to be worn by medical personnel to protect accidental contamination of patient wounds, and to protect the wearer against splashes or sprays of bodily fluids …

There is limited evidence for their effectiveness in preventing influenza virus transmission either when worn by the infected person for source control or when worn by uninfected persons to reduce exposure.

Our systematic review found no significant effect of face masks on transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza … In this review, we did not find evidence to support a protective effect of personal protective measures or environmental measures in reducing influenza transmission.”

When confronted with his previous statements, Fauci tried to justify his earlier statements saying they’d feared panic buying might trigger PPE shortages in hospitals.30

A problem with that rationalization is that the two supply chains are separate. Retail customers typically cannot buy personal protective equipment from the same medical distributors that hospitals do. Another problem is that lying to the public is unacceptable, even if you think you have a good reason.

Does Empirical Evidence Matter Anymore?

I guess the question is, does anyone actually care about the science?31,32,33 In a July 12, 2020, Twitter post, Ivor Cummins34 asks whether empirical evidence matters anymore, and presents statistical evidence showing that mask mandates have not had any impact, positive or negative, on infection rates.

Empirical evidence refers to "observation and documentation of patterns and behavior through experimentation." In other words, can you show, after the fact, that an intervention led to the desired result you were after? In the case of mask wearing, the empirical evidence suggests it's a useless intervention, as it has not lowered, let alone eliminated, infections in countries after the mandate was implemented.

Fall of the Republic, Rise of Corporations in US

If mask wearing does not actually reduce infection rates, why are we doing it? Conversely, if SARS-CoV-2 is sensitive to ultraviolet rays and heat and is inactivated at temperatures at or above 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit or 27 Celsius,35 why aren't we being told to spend more time outdoors this summer rather than closing parks and beaches and telling us to stay at home?

For those wondering why there are rising cases in the south during summer, realize behavior changes as more people spend time indoors in air conditioning - essentially the same indoor behavior that occurs in northern latitudes during winter. 

As noted in Jeremy Elliott's video monologue above, pandemic responses appear to have little to do with protecting public health, and everything to do with the promotion of a political agenda that aims to strip us of our personal freedoms and groom us to accept a radical loss of our civil liberties.

He proposes mask mandates may actually be a test run to see how well artificial intelligence-based facial recognition systems work. Whether that's true or not, we're certainly seeing a rapid roll-out of draconian tracking and tracing systems that, when combined with banking and other systems will eliminate any trace of freedom.

I believe there is a time and a place for wearing a mask. If you're visiting a hospital or nursing home, wearing a mask, ideally an N95 or surgical mask, makes sense for both patient and visitor. If you suspect you have COVID-19 and must go out, wearing a medical-grade mask would be wise.

But to mandate masks for all, everywhere, at all times — Broward County, Florida has even issued an emergency order36 mandating masks to be worn inside your own residence! — makes little sense from a health standpoint.

Let's face it: SARS-CoV-2 is likely to be with us going forward, just like other pandemic influenza viruses that have emerged in the past. So, just how long are we expected to wear masks everywhere we go? Will we be forced to choose between vaccinations or permanent mask wearing?

As you ponder these questions, remember that we will never be able to prevent all death, be it from influenza, COVID-19, tuberculosis or any other viral infection, no matter what we do, and no matter how many of our freedoms we give up.

Just like the nurses previously, will this become a mask or vax position for the future?   Will your only way out of a mask be through vaccines?

Consider Peaceful Civil Disobedience

Most objections to mask wearing requirements are not to the masks themselves, but to the mandate, and well-documented consequences such as oxygen deprivation which should give pause when considering a legal requirement of wearing masks in public. We already see that most will wear makes in public regardless of mandates. But, it seems entirely irresponsible and unethical for governments to mandate such a practice for everyone.

It is clear nearly everyone is being regularly exposed to the propaganda of the mainstream media that is seeking to convince you that masks will help. So, it is beyond understandable that you would want everyone to wear masks because you believe that they will prevent the spread of this virus and save lives.

I get it, but if you carefully evaluate the evidence independent of the mainstream narrative, it is likely you will conclude that this recommendation has nothing to do with decreasing the spread of the virus, but more to indoctrinate you into submission.

In my recent interview with Patrick Wood, he provides compelling evidence that this has been a carefully crafted technocratic strategy that has been in place for the last 50 years or so. By submitting to these orders, it is likely you are setting the stage for the inevitable mandatory vaccinations coming soon that I am planning a number of future articles on. So, watch the recent video from Wood above, and consider not complying with their recommendations.