6 min read

What About Masks?

What About Masks?

When I was growing up, the only ones I saw wearing masks were the Lone Ranger, Zorro, the Green Hornet and Batman. I spent quite a bit of my childhood in front of a television set. These days, venture outside your house and just about everyone is wearing masks. I sometimes wonder though about babies who as part of their developmental stage begin to recognize faces, detect emotions and learn to distinguish between different facial expressions. Human beings learn to connect and relate appropriately to one another by means of face-to-face contact. Are we unintentionally altering the normal cognitive and emotional development of our little ones by turning society into a mass of faceless, masked strangers? If this is true, we better have a darn good reason for doing so. So far, depending on which study is cited, it appears that the jury is still out on the effectiveness of mask-wearing.  

This Danish study found no statistically significant benefit of wearing a face mask to prevent one from getting Covid-19. The study used high-quality surgical masks with a filtration rate of 98%.


The results of this study however, show that increased mask-wearing—the result of a community-level mask distribution and in-person promotion campaign—led to a significant reduction in the percentage of people with COVID-19, based on symptom reporting and SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing.


And there is this study which found that “There was no reduction in per-population daily mortality, hospital bed, ICU bed, or ventilator occupancy of COVID-19-positive patients attributable to the implementation of a mask-wearing mandate.”


Given that the efficacy of mask-wearing has been inconclusive as demonstrated by the disparate results of these studies, is there another measure by which we can draw a firmer conclusion? I believe there is one.

To do this, we need to go back to the Spanish flu of 1918-1919 when according to the CDC, it's estimated that 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with the H1N1 influenza virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. As of this writing, the number of Covid-19 deaths worldwide is 4,811,893. The number of deaths in the United States is 719,674. The Spanish flu pandemic dwarfs the current Covid-19 pandemic by a huge margin. Because of the transmission and mortality rate of the H1N1 virus, it is particularly instructive to see how it was spread to infect and kill such a large proportion of the human population.  

On August 2, 1919, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an article by Milton J. Rosenau, M.D. entitled: Experiments to Determine Mode of Spread of Influenza. This article describes the work of medical officers in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Public Health Service who sought to determine how the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919 was transmitted. One hundred men between the ages of 18-25 and in good physical health volunteered to serve as the test subjects. These men agreed to subject themselves to various attempts to transmit the disease from an infected, symptomatic person to their own bodies as described by these quotes in the JAMA article. The results of this study are quite interesting given the current debate regarding whether masking is effective or not.

The patient with fever, in bed, has a large, shallow, traylike arrangement before him or her, and we washed out one nostril with some sterile salt solution, using perhaps 5 ce., which is allowed to run into this tray ; and that nostril is blown vigorously into the tray. This is repeated with the other nostril. The patient then gargles with some of the solution. Next we obtain some bronchial mucus through coughing, and then we swab the mucous surface of each nares and also the mucous membrane of the throat. We place these swabs with the material in a bottle with glass beads, and add all the material obtained in the tray. This is the stuff we transfer to our volunteers. In this particular experiment, in which we used ten volunteers, each of them received a comparatively small quantity of this, about 1 c.c. sprayed into each nostril and into the throat, while inspiring, and on the eye. None of these took sick. Some of the same material was filtered and instilled into other volunteers but produced no results.
In this experiment we had little cotton swabs on the end of sticks, and we transferred the material directly from nose to nose and from throat to throat, using a West tube for the throat culture, so as to get the material not only from the tonsils, but also from the posterior nasopharynx. We used nineteen volunteers for this experiment, and it was during the time of the outbreak, when we had a choice of many donors. A few of the donors were in the first day of the disease. Others were in the second or third day of the disease. None of these volunteers who received the material thus directly transferred from cases took sick in any way.
The next experiment was designed to imitate the natural way in which influenza spreads, at least the way in which we believe influenza spreads, and I have no doubt it does—by human contact. This experiment consisted in bringing ten of our volunteers from Gallops Island to the U. S. Naval Hospital at Chelsea, into a ward having thirty beds, all filled with influenza....The volunteer was led up to the bedside of the patient; he was introduced. He sat down alongside the bed of the patient. They shook hands, and. by instructions, he got as close as he conveniently could, and they talked· for live minutes. At the end of the five minutes, the patient breathed out as hard as he could, while the volunteer, muzzle to muzzle (in accord¬ ance with his instructions, about 2 inches between the two), received this expired -breath, and at the same time was breathing in as the patient breathed out. This they repeated five times, and they did it fairly faithfully in almost all of the instances. After they had done this for five times, the patient coughed directly into the face of the volunteer, face to face, five different times....After our volunteer had had this sort of contact with the patient, talking and chatting and shaking hands with him for five minutes, and receiving his breath five times, and then his cough five times directly in his face, he moved to the next patient whom we had selected, and repeated this, and so on, until this volunteer had had that sort of contact with ten different cases of influenza, in different stages of the disease, mostly fresh cases, none of them more than three days old. We will remember that each one of the ten volunteers had that sort of intimate contact with each one of the ten different influenza patients. They were watched carefully for seven days—and none of them took sick in any way.

Their conclusion was:

Perhaps there are factors, or a factor, in the transmission of influenza that we do not know. As a matter of fact, we entered the outbreak with a notion that we knew the cause of the disease, and were quite sure we knew how it was transmitted from person to person. Perhaps, if we have learned anything, it is that we are not quite sure what we know about the disease.

Despite their efforts to transfer the influenza virus from infected, sick persons to noninfected, healthy volunteers using sprays, swabs, breathing, coughing, talking and shaking hands, none of the volunteers got sick with the Spanish flu. In the midst of the most transmitted and deadliest pandemic in modern history, scientists of that day were unable to demonstrate human-to-human transmission of the influenza virus from an infected person to a noninfected person. Yet, weren't we educated in school that the Spanish flu was spread via human-to-human transmission?

Based on this, do you think that masks are effective in stopping the spread of Covid-19? The test volunteers had bodily fluids transferred to their bodies from infected patients. The volunteers were breathed upon, coughed upon, talked to, shook hands with, all within a distance of inches from sick patients; yet they did not get the Spanish flu. Both parties never wore any masks. Since that's the case, what lends you believe that a mask will prevent you from contracting Covid-19?