WASHINGTON, D.C. – A peer-reviewed study conducted by Stanford University – originally released in November 2020 but only now coming to light – suggests that facemasks may be ineffective against curbing the spread of COVID-19, which conflicts with studies conducted by numerous other medical organizations that claim that masks are an effective barrier against the respiratory droplets that carry the virus.
The study, published on the website of the National Center for Biotechnological Information (NCBI) – a branch of the U.S. Government’s National Institutes for Health – has recently been making the rounds. Some critics have questioned why it never garnered much attention in the media since the research was conducted by an esteemed university and published on a federal website, as opposed to being disseminated by a group or individual with no credibility. Stanford is one of the world’s leading research and teaching institutions.
The study – titled Facemasks in the COVID-19 era: A health hypothesis – goes over the ineffectiveness of wearing facemasks, as well as many of the disadvantageous, and possibly even dangerous, side-effects that may go along with prolonged use, depending on the type of mask utilized.
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However, the article also states several times that it is merely a hypothesis, and the fact that many other health organizations – including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also a branch of the U.S. Government – support mask-wearing against COVID-19 suggests that more research into the matter is needed to ensure the most effective means of protection.
The Stanford study opens with the following abstract:
Many countries across the globe utilized medical and non-medical facemasks as non-pharmaceutical intervention for reducing the transmission and infectivity of coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19). Although, scientific evidence supporting facemasks’ efficacy is lacking, adverse physiological, psychological and health effects are established. It has been hypothesized that facemasks have compromised safety and efficacy profile and should be avoided from use. The current article comprehensively summarizes scientific evidences with respect to wearing facemasks in the COVID-19 era, providing proper information for public health and decisions making.
And its conclusion is certainly eyebrow-raising, although the researchers do state in their study that the sundry list of potential health issues related to mask-wearing may only pertain to prolonged use or if a user has a pre-existing medical issue:
The existing scientific evidences challenge the safety and efficacy of wearing facemask as preventive intervention for COVID-19. The data suggest that both medical and non-medical facemasks are ineffective to block human-to-human transmission of viral and infectious disease such SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, supporting against the usage of facemasks. Wearing facemasks has been demonstrated to have substantial adverse physiological and psychological effects. These include hypoxia, hypercapnia, shortness of breath, increased acidity and toxicity, activation of fear and stress response, rise in stress hormones, immunosuppression, fatigue, headaches, decline in cognitive performance, predisposition for viral and infectious illnesses, chronic stress, anxiety and depression. Long-term consequences of wearing facemask can cause health deterioration, developing and progression of chronic diseases and premature death. Governments, policy makers and health organizations should utilize prosper and scientific evidence-based approach with respect to wearing facemasks, when the latter is considered as preventive intervention for public health.
“Masks are a simple barrier to help prevent your respiratory droplets from reaching others. Studies show that masks reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth,” the CDC says. “A cloth mask also offers some protection to you too. How well it protects you from breathing in the virus likely depends on the fabrics used and how your mask is made (such as the type of fabric, the number of layers of fabric, and how well the mask fits). CDC is currently studying these factors.”
The CDC’s most recent scientific brief on the effectiveness of different types of masks against COVID-19 can be read here.