The Masking of America

“In its worldwide impact, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the worst in a century. As a threat to Americans’ health, however, it is closer to the 1968 Hong Kong flu or the 1957 Asian flu—neither of which noticeably altered Americans’ everyday lives—than to the 1918 Spanish flu. In a head-to-head comparison, COVID-19 makes the Spanish flu look like the Black Death of medieval Europe. According to the best available figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and elsewhere, the typical American under the age of 40 in 1918 was more than 100 times as likely to die of the Spanish flu than the typical American under the age of 40 in 2020 was to die of COVID-19. Whereas COVID-19 sadly shortened the lives of many older people already in poor health, the Spanish flu took people in the prime of life and left orphans in its wake. Americans’ reaction to COVID-19, however, has been radically different from their behavior in 1968, 1957, or even 1918. One major difference between then and now is the increased role of public health officials. The most reliable science on whether masks are effective in stopping the transmission of viruses comes from randomized control trials (RCTs). Randomized control trials have found little to no evidence that masks work to prevent viral transmission—either from the wearer to others or vice versa. In fact, some significant evidence from RCTs indicates that masks increase transmission. A 2020 study by Professor Henning Bundgaard and his team in Denmark is the only RCT that has tested the effectiveness of mask-wearing against COVID-19. It found that 1.8% of those participants in the group wearing masks, and 2.1% of those in the unmasked control group, became infected with COVID-19 within a month. This difference was not statistically significant. In sum, not only do masks apparently not work as advertised, but they are also uncomfortable and unhygienic. They obscure our humanity and undermine our children’s development. They prevent us from seeing the emotions, sensibilities, and affections of others, or sharing our own. They limit communication and erode understanding. They profoundly compromise human interaction and substantially reduce our quality of life. Public health officials understand none of this.”

Jeffrey Anderson, “Masking,” Claremont Review of Books, Summer 2021