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Sweden’s top infectious disease expert warns that believing face masks will stem the spread of COVID-19 is “very dangerous.”
Anders Tegnell, chief epidemiologist at Sweden’s Public Health Agency — basically the equivalent of U.S. Dr. Anthony Fauci, an immunologist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who serves on the White House Coronavirus Task Force — says there’s no proof masks actually limit the spread of the virus.
“It is very dangerous to believe face masks would change the game when it comes to COVID-19,” Tengell said, according to the Financial Times. “Face masks can be a complement to other things when other things are safely in place,” he said. “But to start with having face masks and then think you can crowd your buses or your shopping malls — that’s definitely a mistake.”
But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) says just the opposite.
“COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice (e.g., while shouting, chanting, or singing). These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Recent studies show that a significant portion of individuals with COVID-19 lack symptoms (are ‘asymptomatic’) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (are ‘pre-symptomatic’) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms,” says the CDC.
“To reduce the spread of COVID-19, CDC recommends that people wear masks in public settings when around people outside of their household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”
Tegnell has long expressed doubt about the usefulness of masks. “With numbers diminishing very quickly in Sweden, we see no point in wearing a face mask in Sweden, not even on public transport,” Tegnell said last month, according to Fortune. “That Sweden has come down to these levels is very promising,” Tegnell told reporters in Stockholm at the time. “The curves are going down and the curves for the seriously ill are beginning to approach zero.”
The Swede’s top immunologist’s comments came after Holland’s top scientists, who have examined data and research about COVID-19, declared there is no clear evidence that wearing face masks helps stem the spread of the virus.
“Face masks in public places are not necessary, based on all the current evidence,” said Coen Berends, spokesman for the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. “There is no benefit and there may even be negative impact.”
“Holland’s position is based on assessments by the Outbreak Management Team, a group of experts advising the government. It first ruled against masks in May and has re-evaluated the evidence several times, including again last week. It believes they detract from a clear three-pronged message that has kept deaths from coronavirus down to less than half the rate in Britain: wash hands regularly, maintain social distancing of 1.5 metres and stay at home if suffering any symptoms,” the Daily Mail reported.
“‘The evidence for [masks] is contradictory,” Christian Hoebe, a professor of infectious diseases in Maastricht and member of the advisory team, told The Mail. “In general, we think you must be careful with face masks because they can give a false sense of security. People think they’re immune from disease or stop social distancing. That is very negative.”