News and Commentary

NYT: Study Finds That Masks Do Not Protect Wearers, But You Need To Wear Them Anyway

“The study’s conclusion flies in the face of other research ... “
Medical masks. Cross to cross. Novel coronavirus - 2019-nCoV.
Iryna Veklich via Getty Images

A new study from Danish researchers found that mask-wearers were not protected from becoming infected by the novel coronavirus more than their mask-less counterparts, contradicting the mainstream consensus, including that of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Researchers in Denmark reported on Wednesday that surgical masks did not protect the wearers against infection with the coronavirus in a large randomized clinical trial,” The New York Times reports in a piece titled, “A New Study Questions Whether Masks Protect Wearers. You Need to Wear Them Anyway.”

The Times noted that the study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, “did not contradict growing evidence that masks can prevent transmission of the virus from wearer to others,” though its “conclusion is at odds with the view that masks also protect the wearers — a position endorsed just last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

The study was comprised of 4,862 total participants; about half were directed to wear masks in public, and the other half were told not to.

Through antibody testing, it was found that COVID-19 occurred in 42 participants (1.8%) who wore masks, and in 53 participants (2.1%) who did not wear masks – the “control participants.”

The researchers concluded that the difference between the groups was statistically insignificant.

“Our study gives an indication of how much you gain from wearing a mask,” said lead author of the study Dr. Henning Bundgaard. “Not a lot.”

Dr. Christine Laine, Editor-in-Chief of the Annals of Internal Medicine, noted that study underscores that masks “are not a magic bullet.”

“There are people who say, ‘I’m fine, I’m wearing a mask.’ They need to realize they are not invulnerable to infection,” she emphasized.

“The study’s conclusion flies in the face of other research suggesting that masks do protect the wearer,” the Times highlighted. “In its recent bulletin, the C.D.C. cited a dozen studies finding that even cloth masks may help protect the wearer. Most of them were laboratory examinations of the particles blocked by materials of various types.”

Indeed, the CDC has stated on their site: “Data regarding the ‘real-world’ effectiveness of community masking are limited to observational and epidemiological studies.”

The Times also cited pushback against the study, namely over the low rate of infection in Denmark at the time of the trial and the participants self-reporting, meaning their mask-wearing was not independently verified:

Other experts were unconvinced. The incidence of infections in Denmark was lower than it is today in many places, meaning the effectiveness of masks for wearers may have been harder to detect, they noted.

Participants reported their own test results; mask use was not independently verified, and users may not have worn them correctly.

“The question this study was designed to answer is: Do they work as personal protection?” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, chief executive of Resolve to Save Lives and former CDC director.

According to Frieden, the Times said, the answer to that question was not “teased out” in the study and “depends on what mask is used and what sort of exposure to the virus each person has.”

“An N95 mask is better than a surgical mask,” Dr. Frieden posited. “A surgical mask is better than most cloth masks. A cloth mask is better than nothing.”

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