Face Masks and Covid – A Failed Technology

By | 20th February 2023

This post is co-authored with Dr Colin Axon, Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, Brunel University London, UK.

Whenever new evidence is produced demonstrating the ineffectiveness of masks, whether cloth, surgical, or N95/FP2, in preventing community transmission of Covid and other respiratory viruses, a commentator can be guaranteed to claim that different standards of evaluation should be applied to laboratory and real-world studies. A section of the biomedical and public health community has latched on to this claim, that evidence from highly-controlled ‘perfect-world’ laboratory experiments shows that masks really do work. The challenge, as they see it, is to make the real-world conform to the experimental conditions by sufficient training and enforcement to achieve compliance. This is a standard, if rather old-fashioned, response to health and safety issues…

It is not inconsistent to accept both that airborne transmission is important for the SARS-Cov-2 virus and that face masks, of any kind, are an ineffective intervention. Successful laboratory studies do not tell us much about the world outside. Feeding laboratory results into equally simplified computational models does not improve their validity, even when the models are used to generate pretty videos…

…It is time to accept that face masks are a failed technology for preventing community transmission.


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