Opinion: Mandating face masks isn’t a good idea

By Kevin Pham | The Daily Signal

As the country attempts to reopen amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, one easy way we can help reduce the spread of the disease is using face masks. But policymakers — such as those in California and in some cities — are exactly wrong to mandate them.

Policymakers and public health officials should encourage the use of masks, but should absolutely avoid mandating them.

Mandating mask use could turn this lightweight solution into yet another onerous burden on the American people during the pandemic response.

A broad, untargeted mandate, and its requisite enforcement, will end up punishing Americans for violations of a public health measure in many situations that have zero public health implications.

Wikimedia Commons/Wereskowa

Masks are an easy way of reducing transmission of COVID-19 in confined or indoor spaces, but otherwise have little effect in outdoor open spaces. For instance, their use is not necessary in areas with little close contact, such as driving alone in your car or walking on an uncrowded biking trail.

It’s important here to distinguish government from private businesses, which are well within their rights to implement mask requirements to patronize their shops and stores. In fact, it’s prudent to do so in businesses that require prolonged close contact, such as salons or retail stores.

One of the major missteps in the early pandemic response was public health messaging that stated that face masks were not effective in preventing disease, and the general public was encouraged not to purchase surgical masks for themselves.

No less than Dr. Anthony Fauci recently admitted that this early messaging was meant not to protect the public, but rather to preserve the supply of masks for health care providers.

That goal of ensuring provider access to protective equipment is laudable, but Americans from the start should have been trusted with clear, concise, and transparent information and messaging, and trusted to act accordingly.

That’s the only way to build trust and cooperation with the public, especially on such a simple measure as wearing a face mask.

That said, as a doctor, I encourage Americans not to dismiss using face masks. Increased testing throughout the country has shown that, even after a month or more of multiple statewide lockdown orders, tens of thousands of new cases still occur daily.

Because of how fast the disease spreads, preventing its transmission requires a multitude of measures. But they need to be appropriate and balanced.

The time is over for harsh measures — such as stay-at-home orders, which forbade most Americans from going to work, from attending church services, from going to bars and restaurants, and from otherwise participating in normal activities that make us feel like normal human beings.

Those measures were enacted to stanch the exponential spread of the virus, but because of their heavy-handed nature were never realistic long-term solutions.

A much less burdensome solution, then, is necessary to continue fighting the virus while resuming some parts of normal daily life. The use of face masks is a solution that has very low cost and a light imposition on the lives of individual Americans.

Even if they aren’t showing symptoms, masks will let more Americans go out and resume more normal lives. We know that masks are an easy way of reducing transmission of COVID-19 in confined or indoor spaces, but otherwise have little effect in outdoor open spaces.

For instance, their use is not necessary in areas with little close contact, such as driving alone in your car or walking on an uncrowded biking trail.

Americans should want to choose to wear them — at the right time and in the right places — because they will help us interact in safer ways with vulnerable people at high risk of dying from the disease (e.g., the elderly and those with certain underlying medical conditions).

So, for example, wearing a mask means that we are taking steps to help our grandparents be — and feel — safe going out in public.

COVID-19 spreads by breathing out, and — based on the best information we have now — putting a physical barrier of any sort in the path of a person’s respiratory expulsion limits the travel and spread of that expulsion.

That’s the reason surgeons wear masks during procedures. It’s not to protect the mask-wearing surgeon, but to protect the patient from the surgeon’s respiratory particles.

Of course, if you’re sick, you still need to stay home. Regular cloth masks, and even surgical masks, do not stop transmission of the disease.

We also need to be clear-eyed about the reliability and limitations of this information. Current evidence with regard to face masks and COVID-19 is largely sparse, and guidance to wear masks is based on clinical experience and data from prior experiments with similar viruses.

That doesn’t mean we should to wait to wear masks until we have hard evidence in a randomized, controlled trial. That would throw out commonsense in pursuit of evidence-based policy and needlessly impede the public health effort to prevent the spread of disease.

At the same time, it also means policymakers must have great humility with regard to mask-wearing policies.

The restrictive lockdown measures were a heavy burden on the American people, and policymakers must not turn mask-wearing into a similarly heavy burden with mandates and enforcement. The mask-wearing mandates are already resulting in reflexive defiance and can further undermine the already tenuous and increasingly shaky trust that public health officials hold with the public.

Masks right now appear to be a highly effective, low-cost measure in the fight against COVID-19. Everyone should consider that, but lawmakers must not ruin it.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Wereskowa

11 thoughts on “Opinion: Mandating face masks isn’t a good idea

  1. To add to Jeff Johns listing:

    Universal Masking in Hospitals in the Covid-19 Era
    “We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection. Public health authorities define a significant exposure to Covid-19 as face-to-face contact within 6 feet with a patient with symptomatic Covid-19 that is sustained for at least a few minutes (and some say more than 10 minutes or even 30 minutes). The chance of catching Covid-19 from a passing interaction in a public space is therefore minimal. In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic.”
    New England Journal of Medicine

    COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions
    What are the key differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks, and respirators?
    Cloth face coverings:

    Will not protect the wearer against airborne transmissible infectious agents due to loose fit and lack of seal or inadequate filtration.

    Surgical masks:
    Will not protect the wearer against airborne transmissible infectious agents due to loose fit and lack of seal or inadequate filtration.


    Warning on the side of the box for those green surgical masks”
    “This product is an ear loop mask, this product is not a respirator and will not provide any protection against covid-19(coronavirus) or other viruses or contaminants.”

  2. This article is full of contradictions:

    “Regular cloth masks, and even surgical masks, do not stop transmission of the disease.”

    Then later, “Masks right now appear to be a highly effective, low-cost measure in the fight against COVID-19.”

    Well, which is it? I’ll help you out: They don’t work, and numerous studies prove it. A small sampling:

    “The evidence from laboratory filtration studies suggests that fabric masks may reduce the transmission of larger respiratory droplets. There is little evidence regarding transmission of small aerosolized particulates of the size potentially exhaled by asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals with COVID-19.”
    — The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine

    “Neither surgical nor cotton masks effectively filtered SARS–CoV-2 during coughs by infected patients.”
    — Annals of Internal Medicine

    “There have been extensive randomized controlled trial (RCT) studies, and meta-analysis reviews of RCT studies, which all show that masks and respirators do not work to prevent respiratory influenza-like illnesses, or respiratory illnesses believed to be transmitted by droplets and aerosol particles.”
    — “Masks Don’t Work: A review of science relevant to COVID-19 social policy,” Denis G. Rancourt, PhD, researcher, Ontario Civil Liberties Association

    “The [CDC] recommendation was published without a single scientific paper or other information provided to support that cloth masks actually provide any respiratory protection. . . . Never before in my 45-year career have I seen such a far-reaching public recommendation issued by any governmental agency without a single source of data or information to support it. This is an extremely worrisome precedent.”
    — Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy

    And that’s not even considering the health effects of re-breathing your own exhaled waste products all day long. The acquiescence and lack of critical thinking out there is breathtaking.

  3. Hey Kevin, is it to much too much to ask that people wear masks to protect others??? Sure it’s a bit inconvenient, but I can assure you getting Covid-19 is a heck more INCONVENIENT!!!! I personally do not particularly like the mask, but I wear it for a darned good reason and so should everyone else. In the town where I live over 90% of the folks wear them and our infection rate is nil.

    • Hey, Gilhooly! If anyone is that suckered in about the volatility of Kung Flu, wouldn’t they be protecting themselves by wearing their masks? The masks themselves are detrimental to users because they restrict breathing and retain Co and Co2 in the users, as well as posing a growth medium for a variety of other diseases and bacteria. Ultimately, the fatality rate for the Wuhan Virus is only 0.06%, occurring mostly in those with pre-existing medical conditions. That’s why governors like Newsom, Cuomo, Whitmer, and Scott have been sending infected patients to nursing homes.

    • Yes it is too much to ask anyone to do anything unecessary much less mandate. Forcefeeding of Republican brand of Marxist ideology is rejected in the strongest of terms. Maskwearers are ‘protecting’ selves from the plandemic…just effing do it and leave we the sane normal ppl who aren’t afraid of a phantom-flu alone.

      Whether you are R, D, P or I a collectivist thru and thru – I and other unmasked are not and I personally reject in the strongest of terms. Because I believe in the individual rights guaranteed under the Constitution. I’m sure Russia or Red China would love to have you serve in an advisory role and plenty of EU socialist dictatorships.

      And you’re SOL bc I cannot wear a mask even if I thot it was a good idea. Soo…what abt my health and well being? Oh sorry – forgot – it’s ‘for the good of the many’ – we can go to hell for all you and the rest of of the communists care.

      • Depressing story but thanks. Oxygenated fresh air kinda a no-brainer and still astonished this fact could escape anyone esp health officials as the ‘science-based’ brain-trust they claim to be. Have asthma and never know when an attack might occur but it’s generally linked to a causation such as the recent several weeks of pollen. Hope no one tells the sheepled cutting off an arm allows the masked to require less oxygen lol.

  4. Those who are infirm should be careful. Those who are healthy but afraid should stay home. Those of us who wish to return to our lives should do so. There is no virus in the air or water. If you are outside or in your car alone wearing a mask, you are an idiot. If you are wearing a bandana as a mask you are a double idiot if you think it protects you or anyone else. This is about control of the masses. No one is getting the truth because no one knows what the truth is or those who do are not telling the rest of us. If you are afraid stay home, don’t yell at me, you don’t control me, the government doesn’t control me there is no emergency. If I have a fever you can find me on my couch until it’s gone. Be a sheep if you must but don’t expect everyone to be. I am a free American who’s done nothing wrong, leave me alone. End this madness, take your life back.

  5. The vast majority of Swedes do not wear face masks. They go to restaurants and bars and parks and shops. They do not live in terror; in fact, it’s amazing how relaxed they are about Covid, although they’re certainly concerned about it.


    Sweden has held up well. The predicted surge hasn’t happened there, just as it never happened at home in Vermont. Despite having no lockdown, Sweden has done better than Spain, Italy, and Belgium. We can make all sort of arguments that Sweden is less dense than NYC, etc., but the plain fact is that a huge part of the US looks very much like Swedish cities in terms of density, and not like NYC.

    Yes, a refusal to wear a face mask is very much a protest against the absurdity and the huge destruction caused by lockdown, and a sign that one really does prefer death to the absence of liberty. A refusal to wear a mask says: I’m with Sweden, one of the few countries on the planet willing to stand up to the WHO and to authoritarian dictates.

    Here we are in Vermont, and we want our children to wear masks when going to school next year! Why? To condition them to be fearful and obedient subjects? We know the scientific facts: children are rarely affected by Covid. Maybe the point is obedience?

    Maybe those in power are getting a little too used to using power and making decisions for the rest of us. Maybe it’s time for everyone to take off those masks and go full Swedish.

  6. I have been n working every day since this Wuhan Virus hit and I’m old !!

    I have taken precautions Face Mask when around others and Hand Sanitizers
    when touching objects others may have handled…. so far so good.

    What really bothers me is when there are signs at a business that say face mask
    ” requested ” but not ” required ” why not ?? 99% put on a face mask anyways,
    there is 1% among us that just doesn’t “GAS ” you figure it out !!

    I have asked two different stores why it’s not mandated, they say we can’t it’s a free
    country……….. give me a break !!

    I have stopped using these two stores ” Major ” home stores and now go directly to a
    smaller store that states ” Mask Required ” and they back it, I assume they care about
    there employees and their customers…………………..Common sense may just save us.

    You can thank the CCP for this disaster…….

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