I have spent considerable time studying journal articles about or related to using face masks to control COVID-19.
Fundamental Reasoning about Universal Face Masks is Unfounded
Criticisms of universal face masks tend to focus on whether masks physically perform as their proponents claim. While this is an important part of the criticism, I do not believe it is the most important part. Instead, fear of visibly healthy people with zero symptoms ultimately drives the reasoning for universal masking, and this unfounded fear requires critical examination.
A widespread claim that over 50% of COVID-19 infections arise from asymptomatic people does not have a proven foundation. This claim probably gained its most recent boost of approval from a study presented in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Let's take a look at that study, which was accepted for publication on December 7, 2020 and published in January of 2021:
Johansson MA, Quandelacy TM, Kada S, et al. (2021). SARS-CoV-2 Transmission From People without COVID-19 Symptoms. JAMA Network Open, 4(1):e2035057.
First, consider the objective of this study:
- Objective: To assess the proportion of SARS-CoV-2 transmissions in the community that likely occur from persons without symptoms.
Now note that this was a modeling study (a decision analytical model) with certain basic assumptions built into it, one of which is stated by the authors as follows:
- The baseline assumptions for the model were that peak infectiousness occurred at the median of symptom onset and that 30% of individuals with infection never develop symptoms and are 75% as infectious as those who do develop symptoms.
Where does the 30% figure come from? 30% of asymptomatic individuals who never develop symptoms are 75% as infectious as individuals who do develop symptoms -- this is presented as a given. The researchers assume that asymptomatic people are infectious, in order to determine how many people asymptomatic people infect.
In other words, the underlying assumption of this model guarantees the very conclusion that its creators arrive at. Circular reasoning of this sort alone renders the model invalid.
A further look at this study's stated limitations reveals how weak it truly is [bold mine]:
- This study has limitations. First, we used a simplistic model to represent a complex phenomenon, ie, the average infectiousness of SARS-CoV-2 infections over time.
- We used this model deliberately to test assumptions about the timing of peak infectiousness and transmission among asymptomatic individuals so that we could vary only these 2 critical parameters and assess their relative effects.
- Therefore, these results lack quantitative precision, but they demonstrate the qualitative roles of these 2 components and show that across broad ranges of possible assumptions, the finding that asymptomatic transmission is a critical component of SARS-CoV-2 transmission dynamics remains constant.
Wording such as results lack qualitative precision, but demonstrate qualitative roles across broad ranges of possible assumptions fails as language of applied science.
A rational person would demand that science of societal redesign should rely on quantitative precision, not on qualitative assessments of a model that incorporates a measure of its conclusion as one of its underlying assumptions.
This study, then, is an academic exercise that has no place in society-altering, policy-making decisions. Universal masking, based on this study is, therefore, gravely misguided.
Studies Reveal that Asymptomatic COVID-19 Transmission is Not Proven
Ironically, another, earlier study, (accepted for publication in November, 2020) published in December 2020 by the same organization as the previously discussed study, raises questions about asymptomatic spread. Let's look at some key quotes from that study, along with my commentary about them:
Madewell ZJ, Yang Y, Longini IM, Halloran ME, Dean NE (2020). Household Transmission of SARS-CoV-2: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. JAMA Network Open, 3(12):e2031756.
- These findings are consistent with other household studies reporting asymptomatic index cases as having limited role in household transmission.
Note the limited role of asymptomatic transmission observed in this study.
- The lack of substantial transmission from observed asymptomatic index cases is notable. However, presymptomatic transmission does occur, with some studies reporting the timing of peak infectiousness at approximately the period of symptom onset.
This is an even stronger statement about the uncertainty of asymptomatic transmission.
People with no symptoms might be able to transfer the illness in rare circumstances, but for policy makers to treat the rare case as a rule applied to every person is clearly an act of incompetence at best, negligent misrepresentation at worst.
Now let's look at a study that seriously questions asymptomatic transmission:
Pollock Allyson M, Lancaster James (December, 2020). Asymptomatic Transmission of Covid-19, BMJ, 371, m4851.
- Unusually in disease management, a positive test result is the sole criterion for a COVID-19 case.
- Normally, a test is a support for clinical diagnosis, not a substitute.
- This lack of clinical oversight means we know very little about the proportions of people with positive results who are truly asymptomatic throughout the course of their infection and the proportions who are paucisymptomatic (subclinical), presymptomatic (go on to develop symptoms later), or post-infection (with viral RNA fragments still detectable from an earlier infection).
The authors make a very important point here, namely that diagnosing illness has always required the presence of visible symptoms that physicians actually observe and only then use tests to help inform those observations.
The testing practice with COVID-19 has illogically overstepped or ignored this standard protocol on a mass scale by attempting to use a test as a diagnosis before any symptoms appear.
Even more, the process being invoked as a test was never intended to be used in this manner. The inventor of the process specifically stated that the process he invented should never be used as a diagnostic test. In effect, a useless test mistakenly predetermines whether a person is ill before the person is ill.
Continuing now with quotes from the study:
- It’s also unclear to what extent people with no symptoms transmit SARS-CoV-2.
- The only test for live virus is viral culture. PCR and lateral flow tests do not distinguish live virus. No test of infection or infectiousness is currently available for routine use.
- As things stand, a person who tests positive with any kind of test may or may not have an active infection with live virus, and may or may not be infectious.
The PCR process cannot distinguish an active virus from an inactive virus. No test is available to do this. Consequently, a useless test frequently, mistakenly labels people in a way that robs them of their freedom and life quality.
I will allow the remaining quotes from the study to speak entirely for themselves:
- Symptomatic and presymptomatic transmission have a greater role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 than truly asymptomatic transmission.
- Searching for people who are asymptomatic yet infectious is like searching for needles that appear and reappear transiently in haystacks, particularly when rates are falling.
- Mass testing risks the harmful diversion of scarce resources. A further concern is the use of inadequately evaluated tests as screening tools in healthy populations.
In sum, an inversion of standard protocol is being invoked to falsely label a large number of people as disease threats whose faces must be covered. This is the fatal flaw of universal masking, a mass movement that kills logic and incapacitates reasonable actions.
Death of Logic by Face Masks
The following detailed study, published December 19, 2020, says it best:
Clare Craig (Fellow of the Royal College of Pathology) and Jonathan Engler (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) (2020). Has the Evidence of Asymptomatic Spread of COVID-19 been Significantly Overstated? Lockdown Sceptics (website).
- What is undoubtedly true is that the policy-making of governments responsible for the lives of billions of people around the world may in part be influenced by the dangerous assumption that there is persuasive evidence of asymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2. It is far too soon to make that assumption and the evidence underpinning it is, at best, circumstantial.
- ... after examination of the most frequently-cited papers in this area available to date, we are struck by the paucity of persuasive evidence of anything but the most minor of symptoms resulting from supposed asymptomatic spread; most or all of which could be misdiagnoses and in any event are at no more than anecdotal level.