Masking the truth

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By Guy Hatchard

There is a lot of self-help advice on offer in the pandemic, much of it useful and uplifting:

  • Improving our diet and exercise routines
  • Searching for new directions and opportunities
  • Connecting with like-minded people

And then there is the other side of the coin – should we be meekly accepting new restrictions or seeking new freedoms?

Articles like the one in the autumn 2022 AA Directions magazine, advising masks are going to be part of our day-to-day lives for the foreseeable future, and teaching us how to recognise whether someone is smiling behind their mask, miss the point. Rather ask: Why are we wearing masks?

Today (25 April) in Stuff, science columnist Dr Siouxsie Wiles finally gets around to admitting that “you can’t rely on mRNA vaccines”. Her answer: become more strict about mask wearing. Is that possible? As I walked around Wellington shops yesterday, I didn’t see a single unmasked person.

Dr. Wiles, a British microbiologist who received the 2021 New Zealander of the Year Award for pandemic science communication, cites a new study which she says supports continuing use of masks at gatherings. Click on the link (most people don’t) and you arrive at a study that involves theoretical modelling rather than verified effects.

Mask studies (of which there are many) have not demonstrated large reductions in Covid transmission. They tend to be very technical in nature and focus on the comparative viral loads found in nasal and mask swabs. These measurements can only be connected to Covid transmission via theoretical modelling whose predictions are speculative and unproven.

Back in the real world, note the near universal combination of vaccination and mask wearing to date in New Zealand, which has not stopped Omicron transmission.

study published in ClinMed entitled ‘Adverse Effects of Prolonged Mask Use among Healthcare Professionals during COVID-19’ surveyed 343 healthcare professionals in New York City hospitals obliged to wear masks throughout most of their working day. They reported: Headaches (71%), skin breakdown (50%), and impaired cognition (24%). Yes, you did read that right, one quarter of medical professionals wearing masks suffer decreased intellectual capacity.

The ClinMed study cited is just one of many. The adverse effects of mask wearing result from a combination of a number of possible factors:

  • Increased harmful bacteria concentrations in the respiratory tract and around the face
  • Increased CO2 content in our lungs, which leads to lower oxygenation of our blood and brain, and can lead to hyperventilation.
  • Decreased social learning, communication, and development of children
  • Polypropylene shedding of micro particles, which have only recently been discovered lodged deep in human lung tissue
  • Allergic reactions to the formaldehyde content of masks (formaldehyde is a known carcinogen)

Even costly N95 masks do not stop the passage of air around the mask fitting, essentially negating their purpose. Prompting the observation ‘it is like trying to stop mosquitos with chicken wire’. Surgical masks or their equivalent are mainly required in hospitals and dirty environments like saw mills or building sites to protect the wearer from inhaling human tissue or large particulates.

So will Dr. Wiles advise us next week to wear a full deep sea diving suit? In the crazy world of the new subnormal apparently nothing absurd can be ruled out.

Guy Hatchard PhD was a senior manager at Genetic ID a global food safety testing and certification company (now known as FoodChain ID)

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