States across the U.S. have dropped their mask mandates in the last week, worrying some Americans who think they’re still needed as even the Washington Post is edging away from masks.
Masks have been the most visible part of America’s pandemic response, but one of the least consequential (https://boriquagato.substack.com/p/masks-were-performative-epidemiological/).
Mask mandates are predicated on the effectiveness of “universal masking” in which everyone wears a mask to keep case numbers lower. But there’s no avoiding it: The benefits of universal masking have been difficult to quantify.
One controlled study in Bangladesh showed a small but statistically significant benefit—among people who consistently used masks, 7.6% got symptomatic infections compared to 8.6% in the control group. Other studies have been inconclusive. Mask mandates haven’t fared significantly better than the 35 states that didn’t impose them during the Omicron wave.
Experts associated with The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota led by Michael Osterholm have laid out a more complex analysis: Given the current understanding that the virus is transmitted in fine aerosol particles, it’s likely an infectious dose could easily get through and around loose-fitting cloth or surgical masks.
Most of the people who were only wearing masks because of the mandate were donning the less effective masks.