Source: William Sullivan

Joe Biden recently made an effort to turn the mask hysteria up to 11, saying, “Every single American should be wearing a mask when they are outside for the next three months at a minimum.  Every governor should mandate mask wearing.”

Why should America broadly expand masking now?  The proverbial “curve” could hardly be flatter in most places in America, and those states that experienced a summer surge, like TexasFlorida, and California, all appear to already be on the other side of their respective “curves.”

Joe Biden, socially distanced outside, demonstrates a useless approach to masking

YouTube screen grab (cropped)

Here are three reasons why it’s time to roll back the mask mandates, rather than ramp them up to ridiculous new levels like Biden suggests.

There’s still just not a lot of evidence that the masks do much to help in slowing or stopping viral spread in the real world. 

I know, I know. Every time it becomes clear that someone is going to argue against the supposedly obvious efficacy of the universal masking of a population, healthy and unhealthy alike, that person is invariably met with some variation of the following by a masks-for-all advocate:

“Oh yeah?  You think you know better than all the scientists who just overturned decades of scientific consensus by saying that wearing masks stops viral spread, huh?  Well, tell me this, smart guy.  If you cough or sneeze into a mask, how could it not catch some of the droplets of moisture that could be carrying the virus?”

First of all, even in a laboratory setting, the science is hardly settled in favor of “masks work.”  Actually, the strength of the argument that cloth masks work lies more in a lack of evidence proving that they’re ineffective than the strength of evidence suggesting that they’re effective, which is a terrible basis for setting public policy in a way that impedes upon Americans’ lives.

But, hey, I’m easy.  I’ll just go along with the notion that wearing a bandana or something snugly around your face, covering your nose and mouth, is an effective means to stop or slow COVID-19 spread.

If that’s true, and if human beings were predictable and reliable in thoughts, actions, and purpose, that mask mandate you’re advocating might work outside of a laboratory.  But human beings aren’t.

As an example of how these variables tend to play out in real life, consider a story I heard recently from a friend about a child taking his SpongeBob mask to his first day of school, only to return home with a Batman mask. He’d traded with a friend because each thought the other mask was cooler, you see.

The CDC also currently says that for a mask to be safe and effective, you’re always supposed to wash your hands before putting it on (like you never see anyone do), you’re never supposed to touch the mask or put it around your neck (like you always see people do), and the masks are supposed to be “washed after each use.”  How often do you wash yours?

This is an example of the human element in any free society — chaotic, unpredictable, and often noncompliant — that social engineers loathe as a pesky obstacle to progress, and scientists can’t even begin to replicate in the lab. 

Some places without masks fared far better than places with strict mask requirements.

Lockdown advocates and mask-mavens are scratching their heads about Hawaii these days.  The state is a bunch of islands that are isolated in the middle of a giant ocean, and the state locked down immediately, complete with mask mandates and a shutdown of tourism.  If lockdowns and masks work, few places would give the world a better example of the strategies’ effectiveness. 

And yet, “coronavirus is spreading at a faster rate in Hawaii than anywhere in the US,” including the 18 states run by Republicans which have not issued mask mandates. 

Or, how about we look further west in the Pacific.  Few countries in the world have more notoriously strict or harshly enforced masking laws than the Philippines.  And yet, they’re currently experiencing a spike in cases and deaths right now, despite all that strictly enforced mask-wearing.             

Meanwhile, in Sweden, where public masking has been all but nonexistent, cases are declining, and daily deaths are approaching zero.

None of this can be explained by the logic that mask mandates work in practice.  But that doesn’t stop people from trying.

Historian Tom Woods asked a genuine question to his audience as to how heavily masked countries like the Philippines could be experiencing such poor results today, and a friend “did his best” to explain it.  The spread there must be “happening when people had their masks off (as when eating),” his friend says.

This is far-fetched and kind of ridiculous, certainly, but confirmation bias is a powerful thing.  For his friend, the masks absolutely work because science says so, and the only possible reason the masks aren’t working in the Philippines is because of irresponsible people who take the mask off to do irresponsible things like eating food.  

This still does nothing to explain, though, why the absence of masks isn’t decimating Sweden right now.

Most importantly, even if masks work, mask-wearing will not achieve the appropriate public policy goal.

In the end, Tom Woods concedes, as I or any other rational person should, that “these examples don’t in themselves prove that masks are useless, but they absolutely do suggest that simple mask-wearing doesn’t have the miraculous results that some people think they do.”

So sure, maybe the masks might do some good, at some level.  We should still be rolling back mask mandates.

Dr. Scott Atlas, who has thankfully been tapped by President Trump as an adviser, suggests that the “goal of stopping COVID-19 cases is not the appropriate goal.”  Rather, “the goal is simply twofold, to protect the people who are going to have a serious problem and die, that’s the high-risk population, and to stop hospital overcrowding.  There should never be and there is no goal to stop college students from getting an infection they have no problem with.”

Incidentally, this is the same approach that Dr. David Katz recommended in the New York Times on March 20, suggesting “a pivot right now from trying to protect all people to focusing on the most vulnerable.”

This is the strategy that American policymakers should adopt in order to get us through this pandemic quickly and with as few deaths, and as little strain on our hospitals, as possible.  It would allow most Americans to get back to their lives with a semblance of normalcy, increase their happiness, and rebuild the economy.  And it seems clear that this is what President Trump wants for Americans. 

And while masks may be a part of that strategy in some way, more draconian mask orders for all Americans, at all times, and in all public places, as Joe Biden recommends, should certainly not be.