When the Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi announced that they planned to lift their statewide COVID-19 restrictions, including mask mandates, President Biden accused them of “Neanderthal thinking.” Yet, despite the president’s repeated assurances that his coronavirus policies would “follow the science,” it’s clear that neither he nor his advisers have bothered to compare the mortality statistics of states with stringent mask mandates to those with no statewide mandates. As it happens, the average number of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 residents in the knuckle-dragger states is about half that of those whose governors still impose strict mask mandates, according to statistics provided by the New York Times.
In the 34 states whose hapless citizens still endure stringent mask mandates, the average number of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 residents is 308. In the 16 states run by “Neanderthals,” the average death rate per 100,000 residents is 156. This is consistent with a new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that suggests statewide mask mandates have produced no significant decrease in COVID-19 death rates. This reality is buried beneath a specious summary and five paragraphs of bureaucratic argle-bargle. Readers who survive the slog to paragraph six will find that mask mandates are “associated” with minuscule decreases in “death growth rates.” Or, in the opaque argot of the CDC,
Mask mandates were associated with a 0.7 percentage point decrease (p = 0.03) in daily COVID-19 death growth rates 1–20 days after implementation and decreases of 1.0, 1.4, 1.6, and 1.9 percentage points 21–40, 41–60, 61–80, and 81–100 days, respectively, after implementation (p<0.01 for all). Daily case and death growth rates before implementation of mask mandates were not statistically different from the reference period [1–20 days before implementation].
Oddly, considering the proliferation of mask mandates, their efficacy has been subjected to few randomized controlled trials (RCT). This is ostensibly due to logistical reasons, but it is clearly an artifact of the increasingly moralistic tone that characterizes any examination of their actual effectiveness. The evolution of mask orthodoxy can be traced by following the claims made by “America’s Doctor,” Anthony Fauci. Last March, he said not to wear masks. A month later, he said to mask up while out in public. By January, he was advocating double masking. Meanwhile, a Danish RCT was published in the Annals of American Medicine. It found no significant differences in infection rates between masked and unmasked subjects.
This study and its authors received an enormous amount of criticism from countless American media outlets and politicians for reasons unrelated to “the science.” One of the most absurd attacks came from FactCheck.org under the title, “Danish Study Doesn’t Prove Masks Don’t Work Against the Coronavirus.” The fact checker in question, Jessica McDonald, evidently doesn’t understand that a researcher’s job isn’t to prove a negative. The real crime these researchers committed was heresy, of course. They simply tested the orthodox view of face masks as a protection against COVID-19. There were 6,024 participants in the trial. Half were randomly assigned to the mask group, and half made up the control group:
Our results suggest that the recommendation to wear a surgical mask when outside the home among others did not reduce, at conventional levels of statistical significance, the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection.… While we await additional data to inform mask recommendations, communities must balance the seriousness of COVID-19, uncertainty about the degree of source control and protective effect, and the absence of data suggesting serious adverse effects of masks.
This absence of data concerning adverse effects of face masks is by no means comforting. To coin a phrase: The absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. According to some experts prolonged use of face masks can cause a range of adverse physiological and psychological effects, depending on age and general health. Among the most commonly cited are hypoxia, shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches, declining cognitive performance, chronic stress, anxiety, and depression. Virtually none of these potential effects were taken into consideration by policy-makers in state governments when mask mandates were suddenly foisted on the hapless residents of all but a few states with sensible governors and health officials.
Even now, as the evidence mounts that states with mask mandates have done a poor job of controlling the pandemic — and the number of cases and deaths continues to decline throughout the country — some state officials remain intransigent. This is by no means limited to Democratic officials. Ohio’s GOP Gov. Mike DeWine is clinging to his state’s mask mandate like grim death. Last Sunday, on ABC’s This Week, he said Americans should not stop wearing masks: “We have found that these masks work exceedingly well. Schools are a prime example. We’ve seen it in retail … we know that this makes a huge, huge difference.” He knows nothing of the kind, of course, as the CDC and Danish studies noted above make clear.
Indeed, Ohio’s COVID-19 death rate per 100,000 residents is almost exactly the same as the average death rate among the knuckle-dragger states. His mask requirement has worked so well that it places Ohio on par with states with no mandates at all. Why would any governor model his mask policy on states whose average number of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 residents is double that of his own state? In the states with stringent mask mandates, the average number of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 residents is 308. In the states run with no mask mandates, the average death rate per 100,000 residents is 156. It would appear that what our new president refers to as “Neanderthal thinking” is good for public health.