To the editor:
The comments section and letters to the editor regarding the recent article stating Mayor Flint shared COVID-19 misinformation and fringe studies rather than following health officials’ recommendations was full of vitriol by folks who are sure their positions are based solidly on science. Many comments referenced statements by the World Health Organization and confidently stated we know masks slow the spread of the virus while at the same time calling people who dare to question these statements unethical or worse.
What kind of fringe outfit would publish the following on December 1, 2020? “At present there is only limited and inconsistent scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of masking of healthy people in the community to prevent infection with respiratory viruses, including SARS-CoV-2.” If you guessed the World Health Organization, you would be correct. How could the WHO make such a statement 10 months into this pandemic when so many seem so sure about the efficacy of masks in stopping or slowing the spread of the virus?
Maybe there is still a lot we don’t know about the spread of this virus. Maybe models don’t accurately represent real world conditions. Maybe researchers at BYU dramatically overstated the findings of the studies they summarized. Maybe officials erred when using the coercive powers of government to lock down businesses, ban gatherings, and promote universal mask use in public.
A careful reader will note the WHO statement above only addresses using masks for protection rather than source control and could accuse me of obfuscating the issue. To head that off at the pass, I recommend you read the entire study. The WHO goes into great detail about how to properly wear a mask. It also identifies situations where masks have potential benefit for source control and where there is actual source control. Actual source control is limited to very specific situations.
Science is full of nuance. The real world is full of nuance. Unfortunately, our government response and public discourse haven’t been. The study “Mask use in the context of CVOID-19” published by the World Health Organization December 1, 2020, will provide significantly more nuance than a headline or a pithy comment.