The Impact of Face Masks

Recently I was sitting in a cafe whose staff were all unmasked. I overheard them retell the story of a customer who stormed out after trying to demand that they don masks in order for him to feel safe. It prompted me to write down a summary of my own experience with face masks.

With the exception of groceries, I barely shopped for over six months. Masking behaviours and potential for harrassment kept me at home. I planned supermarket visits to minimise the time and frequency that I had to look at muzzled, expressionless heads, and to reduce my exposure to people who appear afraid and might become confrontational at the sight of a naked face. It is no way to live and it significantly reduced my spending, which is good for me but not so good for a flailing economy.

About fifteen years of my career involved teaching health care professionals and infectious patients about when, how, where and why to wear masks, and which type of mask was appropriate according to the situation.  In infectious disease situations, I was involved in fit-testing of high filtration masks and performing quality control exercises.  I delivered education to the general public and assisted in writing protocols.

It was always understood that masks had a limited effect and must only ever be used following strict protocols, because of the potential harms involved.

To now see the general public walking around masked-up with filthy face coverings, worn incorrectly and with zero training, has been a literal dystopian nightmare. Many similar trained colleagues say the same.

For those who say they won’t patronise businesses whose staff are unmasked, it is hard to imagine what evidence they offer to show that this is in some way useful for their physical protection and harmless to those they demand it from?

Rather than being shown as harmless and/or a mere courtesy to each other, there is ample literature demonstrating that masks have no impact on respiratory virus transmission, and that they cause harm.  There are reasons for the states in the USA with stricter mask mandates having higher cases of Covid-19 than the states without strict mandates, as shown by Ian Miller in his book “Unmasked: The global failure of Covid mask mandates”.

Blue surgical masks have pores approximately 1 to 10 micrometres in diameter. These cannot filter viruses which are approximately 0.06 to 0.2 micrometres in diameter.  Hundreds of virus particles can pass through each pore of a surgical mask (much more for cloth masks and thousands of times more for the gaps around unsealed masks).

The mask also provides a moist, warm surface for organisms to sit on and reproduce. With each exhalation we nebulise those organisms which can become suspended in the air in concentrated form, increasing the risk for others to inhale them before they dissipate. For the mask wearer, inhalation of concentrated organisms sitting on a moist warm surface directly over their airway increases the risk of dental and respiratory infections. Anyone with experience wearing masks understands this from the bad smell that a mask develops within a very short space of time.

In hospital settings blue surgical masks have only ever been used as splashguards:

  • to protect surgeons and others against body fluid splashes from wounds;
  • to protect patients from the spittle of those in contact with open wounds.
    This risk reduction is hypothetical and in fact there is evidence that a significant decrease in wound infections is seen when face masks are not worn during surgical operations, likely due to the dilution effect of fresh circulating air; and
  • to reduce the impact of droplets from a coughing patient.

Masks have never before been used as a viral control measure.  Because we know they serve no such purpose.  Respiratory viruses can remain suspended in aerosols in the air around us for many hours and they fit easily through the pores of face masks. Masks hanging from the ear or bunhced up around the chin of their wearer, dangling from rear view mirrors or scrunched up in pockets and being handled many times per hour are a mop for bacteria, grime and dust which is then placed directly over the wearer’s airway. This was never acceptable in a hospital setting prior to 2020.

Unmasking the Surgeons: the evidence base behind the use of facemasks in surgery.

It is also of concern that the chemical mix of microplastic fibres which surgical masks are made from, are inhaled into the lung tissue of those wearing them.  This has significant health implications in the medium to long term with chronic mask wearing.

High filtration masks are named for the level of protection they proffer, eg N95 = 95% effective against”non-oil” based particulates.  Meaning 5% of organisms will nevertheless breach the filter and be inhaled.  This limited protection requires that the mask is fit tested regularly to ensure the right sized mask for a secure seal on the person’s face. Health staff must be trained regularly, to ensure that the mask fits appropriately when worn following strict protocols. They learn to don and doff the mask properly; follow protocols (eg a constant seal must be maintained, touching the mask is prohibited, beards are prohibited, etc); change it regularly; and dispose of it appropriately.

Staff only mask when exposure to an infectious patient is expected. The mask is donned in an ante-room between the patient’s isolation room and the non-isolation area, to reduce risk of contamination. Staff are encouraged to take breaks with exposure to fresh air between periods of masking. This is due to the known protective effects of adequte circulating fresh air and the health effects of reduced oxygen and increased carbon dioxide under a sealed mask. Staff in contact with infectious patients in outside settings are not required to wear masks due to negligent risk in the open air.

Many billions of masks are now entering the oceans and joining the array of microplastic already destroying our marine environments and other natural habitats.  This alone is an enormous concern.

Most importantly, child development is severely affected by mask wearing.  Language development requires a child has ample opportunity to observe and mimic mouth movements, tongue placements, and hear and practice associated sounds at the same time.  Social development and the learning of emotions including empathy rely heavily on children being able to observe facial expressions as well as hearing tones in voices (muffled by masks), make eye contact, etc.  Children who experience neglect including the lack of opportunity for these interactive experiences, are at high risk of developmental delay and mental health issues.

Mask use over the past two years has been incredibly harmful to children and their development, worldwide.  Child psychiatrists are speaking out on this.  Dr Mark MacDonald is one example.  His fifteen minute interview at this link is both informative and heart breaking.

New Zealand pscyhiatrist Dr Emanuel Garcia alluded to the harms of masks during this sixteen minute interview.  Dr Garcia at The Beehive.

There is also now evidence that locations with the strictest mask mandates have seen higher rates of cases and also of death, with Covid-19. The Foegen Effect: Why Face Masks Increase the Death Rate of Covid-19.

This systematic review by Dr Paul Alexander, an evidence based medicine specialist and epidemiologist who was on the Covid-19 Task Force for the US Government in 2020 shows that masks are both useless (against a virus) and harmful (to human health).

Rather than following our intuition, that covering our airways with some type of material must surely stop us from inhaling things that might harm us, it is surely important that we try to understand the processes and data which support or contradict our intuition?

Meanwhile : Climate change: Designers of cow face mask that neutralises emissions from belching win £50k Prince Charles prize.

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