Professor Henning Bundgaard,
Tamara van Ark, Anders Tegnell
Composite image by FEE
can't decide if masks are helpful
in reducing the spread of COVID-19
or just make
Denmark boasts one of the lowest COVID-19 death rates in the world.
As of August 4, the Danes have suffered 616 COVID-19 deaths, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.
Despite this success, Danish leaders recently found themselves on the defensive.
The reason is that Danes aren't wearing face masks, and local authorities for the most part aren't even recommending them.
This prompted Berlingske, the country's oldest newspaper, to complain that Danes had positioned themselves,
This apparently did not sit well with Danish health officials.
They responded by noting there is little conclusive evidence that face masks are an effective way to limit the spread of respiratory viruses.
(Denmark has since updated its guidelines to encourage, but not require, the use of masks on public transit where social distancing may not be possible.)
Denmark is not alone...
Dutch public health officials recently explained why they're not recommending masks.
What's Going on With Masks?
The top immunologists and epidemiologists in the world can't decide if masks are helpful in reducing the spread of COVID-19.
For the average person, it's confusing and frustrating.
It's also a bit frightening, considering that we've seen people denounced in public for not wearing a mask while picking up a bag of groceries.
The truth is masks have become the new wedge issue, the latest phase of the culture war.
There's not a lot of middle ground to be found and there's no easy way to sit this one out.
We all have to go outside, so at some point we all are required to don the mask or not.
It's clear from the data that despite the impression of Americans as selfish rebel cowboys who won't wear a mask to protect others, Americans are wearing masks far more than many people in European countries.
Polls show Americans are wearing masks at record levels, though a political divide remains:
(These numbers, no doubt, are to some extent the product of mask requirements in cities and states.)
Whether one is pro-mask or anti-mask, the fact of the matter is that face coverings have become politicized to an unhealthy degree, which stands to only further pollute the science.
Last month, for example, researchers at Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy responded to demands they remove an article that found mask requirements were,
The school, to its credit, did not remove the article, but instead opted to address the objections critics of their research had raised.
First, Do No Harm
The ethics of medicine go back millennia.
The Hippocratic Oath famously calls on medical practitioners to,
(Those words didn't actually appear in the original oath; they developed as a form of shorthand.)
There is a similar principle in the realm of public health:
Public health officials say the idea makes it clear that public health organizations have a responsibility to not harm the people they are assigned to protect.
The problem with mask mandates is that public health officials are not merely recommending a precaution that may or may not be effective.
They are using force to make people submit to a 'state order' that,
That is not just a violation of the Effectiveness Principle.
Mask advocates might mean well, but they overlook a basic reality:
Scientific evidence shows that American workplaces and consumers changed the patterns of their travel before lockdown orders were issued.
As I've previously noted, this should come as no surprise:
Instead of ordering people to "mask-up" under penalty of fines or jail time, scientists and public health officials should get back to playing their most important role: