The wrong way to mask

COVID-19, British Columbia, mask mandate

“Until now, B.C. has resisted calls for a mandatory mask order, instead making it the responsibility of businesses, transit operators and community service agencies to implement their own rules.

“The mask mandate is not something that in and of itself has made a difference in terms of transmission,” the province’s health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said as late as Wednesday.

On Thursday, she said the change in policy was due to increasing public pressure, including from businesses, expressing concerns about putting the onus of enforcing piecemeal policy onto workers.

The mask mandate isn’t being implemented by public health order, but by B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth under the extraordinary powers granted by the province’s record-breaking state of emergency. It’s not clear when it will take effect.” ctvnews

I had been under the impression that Dr. Henry had changed her mind for public health reasons. Apparently not.

Now the government’s public health policy is being dictated by “public pressure”. Whether masking works or not is a matter of scientific debate. My own reading of the literature suggests that “mask mandates” have virtually no effect. (Which is not the same as saying that masks don’t work. They may in certain circumstances.) But that literature has been tossed under the bus by “public pressure”.

To date I have been rather impressed with the BC Government’s tempered response to COVID. Through Dr. Henry it has treated British Columbians as adults. But, most of all, there was a deference to the best science Dr. Henry and her colleagues could access. That has gone out the window.

At a guess, when case numbers continue to rise, “public pressure” will mount for full, enforced, lock down regardless of the fact that the science is, at best, equivocal as to the efficacy of full lock downs. And there may well be “public pressure” to close the schools, again in the face of very little evidence that school closure helps much.

At the moment the public, goaded by an hysterical media, is terrified. Which will mean that “public pressure” can be mustered for virtually any policy which appears to have some effect on COVID. Worse, as the CTV article illustrates, if one province is doing something there is an expectation that other provinces should do the same thing. This is irrational.

If anything, the need is to be more granular. Take a look at regions and sub regions and tailor the public health response to the facts on the ground. Simply working very hard to protect out elderly may have a better public health outcome than masking, lockdowns and school closures. But if “public pressure” is all it takes to make sweeping, province wide, restrictive orders the scientific basis, medical outcome and economic consequences of such orders will be moot.

BC, through the grace of Dr. Bonnie Henry, held onto science as the basis for decisions. We have now succumbed to the Karens.

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3 thoughts on “The wrong way to mask

  1. John says:

    Unfortunately, the use of masks in this type of a situation is not a well studied topic (I bet it will be in the future). However there is strong evidence showing the very strong positive outcome from wearing masks. Why they work is still somewhat up in the air, probably a combination of masks reducing the spreading potential of the mask wearer as well as providing a small benefit to the wearer.

    But if you use a couple of case studies the benefit of masks is clear. If you look at Vietnam and Taiwan, you can see that they have had very low numbers of cases. There are many factors involved, but they both mandate the wearing of masks.

    A more interesting example is Czech Republic. They had a very strong and fast implementation of mask, mandating them for everyone in mid march. They were so successful in reducing covid that they thought they had beaten it and removed the mandatory mask wearing at the end of May. Soon after they removed that requirement cases began to appear and by the time they re-established the mask mandate they had a large number of cases and community transmission.

    In regards to the argument against masks, I read the article you linked to in the last post and it was very unimpressive. The graphs they claim show masks were useless show nothing of the sort. The research papers they cite were more interesting but if you actually read them and their conclusions, they don’t actually support not wearing masks.

    Social distance, contact tracing and mask wearing appear to be the keys to preventing the spread of the virus (hand washing and vitamin D are important as well, but appear to not be as essential as the other 3). Hard to say which is most important, but I will note that Taiwan had a relatively short “shutdown” but continue to wear masks.

  2. Jay Currie says:

    I agree that the use of masks is not well studied and that it certainly will be in future.

    My point in this piece is that Dr. Henry is not a mask enthusiast but was overridden by “public pressure”. Which, I think you’ll agree John, is not how these sorts of decisions should be made.

    • John says:

      I was disagreeing with your assessment that masks have virtually no effect. We have clear evidence that they are very effective and they can minimize shutdowns which I am sure we all agree is a good thing!

      I don’t know how the decision got made, but whether by good luck or good design it is the right one!

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