I have spent considerable time studying journal articles about or related to using face masks to control COVID-19.
Universal Face Masks – The Concept
The word, universal, of course, means existing everywhere, or, in this case existing for everybody, everywhere. Universal face masks, then, means that everybody wears a face mask, regardless of whether they have a known infection, or regardless of whether they show obvious disease symptoms at the moment.
Everybody is reduced to the same standard, muffled, expressionless threat.
COVID-19 has caused this concept to take hold of the world in a way that resembles religion, with prominent health organizations and government leaders preaching it in a frame of mind that defies rational judgment. From what I have read in professional literature, the main driver of this face mask fervor is the idea of an asymptomatic carrier or a person who carries the virus without showing any symptoms of the disease.
The Validity of Cloth Masks for Everybody
In considering the validity of universal face masks, I focus on three main questions:
- Does the severity of the COVID-19 threat justify forced regulation of an individual’s personal, intimate face space?In a previous article, I have answered this question No.
- Do cloth face masks really perform the way that prominent health organizations and government leaders proclaim? In another previous article, I have likewise answered this question No.
- Is universal masking, based on the idea of asymptomatic carriers or asymptomatic cases, a reasonable way to operate human society, where the very basis of a functional, physical society is the grouping of human beings and interaction of human beings with one another? My answer to this question is also a resounding No.
The remainder of the current article will focus on this third question.
Suffice to say that my probing into these three main questions has led me to a sound conclusion that has disturbing implications for the future of civilization.
By one estimate, over 380 trillion viral particles normally inhabit the human body – 380,000,000,000,000. This is about ten times the number of cells that make up the entirety of our tissues and organs.
1. David Pride (Associate Director of Microbiology, University of California San Diego) and Chandrabali Ghose (Visiting Scientist, The Rockefeller University) (2018). Meet the Trillions of Viruses that Make Up Your Virome, The Conversation.
2. Eva Bianconi, Allison Piovesan, Federica Facchin, Alina Beraudi, Raffaella Casadei, Flavia Frabetti, Lorenza Vitale, Maria Chiara Pelleri, Simone Tassani, Francesco Piva, Soledad Perez-Amodio, Pierluigi Strippoli & Silvia Canaider (2012). An Estimation of the Number of Cells in the Human Body, Annals of Human Biology 40(6):463-471.
Certainly not all of these microbes cause disease. Some appear to assist the immune system and to aid in bodily processes. Scientists still have much to learn about exactly what all of them do. Human life itself, thus, is defined by viruses. Everybody is always an asymptomatic carrier – of more viruses than living cells.
This might come as a shock to people who traditionally view themselves as separated from the world of pathogens by a clearly defined boundary, where bad things outside the boundary enter to disrupt good things inside the boundary. The more I read, the more I realize that the proper view might not be compatible with an outside/inside way of thinking, where viruses are concerned. Rather, a better way of thinking might envision a system of many pieces whose overall balance is more important than the mere presence or absence of any particular piece at any particular time.
An outside/inside point of view might serve us well with grave threats such as bullets, poisonous substances, radioactivity and the like. Given that much of human existence is already virus-based, however, the same sort of logic might be too simple minded for assessing viral infections, leading to irrational fear of SARS-CoV-2, which I contend has driven government responses to COVID-19 around the world in 2020.
Everybody is “Infected”
Connecting a particular virus to the actual manifestation of a disease does not seem to be a straightforward endeavor. All healthy humans typically carry an average of at least five different classifications of viruses, including members from:
Viruses that cause both short-term and long-term asymptomatic infections are normal parts of microbial flora of the human body. Healthy humans carry a surprising variety of DNA viruses that infect their cells.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus that allegedly causes COVID-19 is an RNA virus. An RNA type can mutate quickly, which might make it both more scary and more challenging for us to consciously control. I suppose that carrying such an RNA virus without symptoms might seem to justify greater alarm, but the fact that such a virus can exist in a healthy person without manifesting as visible disease seems not so far removed from a healthy person carrying a DNA virus without symptoms.
Identifying a diseased person has always rested on observing the manifestation of disease. To treat a person as diseased without seeing physical symptoms or without even knowing whether a potential microscopic disease agent is present in the person violates any practical approach to living with other human beings. To foster such a state of mind allows for validating and nurturing other fears about the unknown or unobservable.
Is it rational to fear any person as a sexual abuser, if we do not observe physical symptoms of such? Is it rational to fear any person as a serial killer? A pick pocket? An alcoholic? – who, at any moment, might stumble into us causing a serious fall? Life does not proceed on such fears of the unobserved or unknown. A truly rational response is proportional to what is observed, not proportional to what is feared and unknowable.
3. Wylie, K.M., Mihindukulasuriya, K.A., Zhou, Y. et al (2014). Metagenomic Analysis of Double-Stranded DNA Viruses in Healthy Adults. BMC Biology 12, 71.
4. Olen R. Brown, Professor Emeritus, John M. Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center, University of Missouri-Columbia, MO USA (2020), [Pre-print] Asymptomatic COVID-19; We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know, MDPI Agriculture.
Does Asymptomatic Transmission Really Happen?
Prominent health authorities and leading news agencies generate information that leads us to believe that asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19 is a certainty. But is it? My reading of the evidence leaves this question unanswered, which implies that we really do not know.
Just because the virus can transfer does not mean that an illness transfers. An illness is a body’s response, and a standard bodily response is not what is being transferred with a virus.
Even if the SARS-CoV-2 virus can (and most likely does) transfer from an asymptomatic person to another person, I see no convincing evidence that we know what percentage of asymptomatic transfers causes an actual infection manifesting symptoms of the COVID-19 disease.
A statutory, government-funded agency in Ireland that monitors the safety and quality of the healthcare and social care systems has produced the following 86-page report and conclusion:
5. Health Information and Quality Authority (2020). Evidence Summary for Asymptomatic Transmission of COVID-19.
- Based on the totality of the evidence presented in this report, it seems likely that pre-symptomatic transmission is occurring. Evidence of asymptomatic transmission from asymptomatic carriers is more limited (perhaps due to difficulties in identifying truly asymptomatic carriers); it appears plausible, but it may not be a driver of transmission.
Notice the words, seems likely, more limited, difficulties, appears plausible, and may not be. These tentative words are not fit to guide definitive policies that attempt to mass control everybody’s intimate, personal, face space.
Official Studies and Assessments of Asymptomatic Transmission
What follows are additional professional reference articles about SARS-CoV-2 asymptomatic transmission, where I present the main takeaways in bulleted italics, followed by my comments:
6. Christina Savvides, Robert Siegel (2020). Asymptomatic and Presymptomatic Transmission of SARS-CoV-2: A Systematic Review, MedRxiv (a pre-print server for health sciences).
- Different approaches to determining the presence and prevalence of asymptomatic and presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 transmission have notable shortcomings, which were highlighted in this review and limit our ability to draw definitive conclusions.
Notable shortcomings should tell policy makers that there is no firm basis for assuming that asymptomatic transmission should have ever driven government responses.
- Despite the absence of live virus isolation and culturing in the general population, many studies and reports have concluded asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission are prevalent in this pandemic.
How could studies and reports have concluded asymptomatic transmission of an entity that was never isolated? This defies belief.
- Modeling studies that are being utilized to predict future case spread and determine the most effective interventions are fundamentally rooted in an understanding of asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission.
Modeling studies that guided interventions, thus, are rooted in lack of understanding. One cannot claim that shortcomings surrounding studies of the thing in question constitutes any understanding at all. Models, then have been guided by assumptions, not by legitimate evidence.
7. Gao M, Yang L, Chen X, Deng Y, Yang S, Xu H, Chen Z, Gao X. A Study on Infectivity of Asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 Carriers (2020). Respiratory Medicine, 169:106026.
- It is debatable whether asymptomatic COVID-19 virus carriers are contagious.
Debatable means that there are strong arguments both for and against.
- … we conclude that the infectivity of some asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 carriers might be weak.
Might be weak, might not be weak, or, in other words, we do not know. This study confirms the uncertainty, and it offers no grounds for stringent government interventions that have occurred around the world.
8. Lei Luo, PhD, Dan Liu, PhD, Xinlong Liao, MSc, Xianbo Wu, PhD, Qinlong Jing, PhD, Jiazhen Zheng, MSc, Fanghua Liu, PhD, Shigui Yang, PhD, Hua Bi, BSc, Zhihao Li, PhD, Jianping Liu, BSc, Weiqi Song, MSc, Wei Zhu, PhD, Zhenghe Wang, PhD, Xiru Zhang, PhD, Qingmei Huang, MSc, Peiliang Chen, PhD, Huamin Liu, PhD, Xin Cheng, MSc, Miaochun Cai, MSc, Pei Yang, MSc, Xingfen Yang, PhD, Zhigang Han, MSc, Jinling Tang, PhD, Yu Ma, MSc, Chen Mao, PhD (2020). Contact Settings and Risk for Transmission in 3410 Close Contacts of Patients With COVID-19 in Guangzhou, China: A Prospective Cohort Study, Annals of Internal Medicine.
- … asymptomatic cases were least likely to infect their close contacts.
- Our results showed that patients with COVID-19 who had more severe symptoms had a higher transmission capacity, whereas transmission capacity from asymptomatic cases was limited.
These statements support a rational response of focusing on people who manifest physical symptoms of illness, rather than treating every person (regardless of symptoms) as a carrier of a deadly disease. Carriers do not carry a disease – they carry a virus that might lead to a disease in some people, depending on individual health and individual reactions to what is carried.
9. Ghosh, Abantika (2020). Asymptomatic Transmission of Covid-19: Why It Matters, Where Evidence Stands, Indian Express.
I cannot offer any quoted takeaways here, because the title of this article belies what it actually reveals. Very little evidence is presented or discussed. The article mentions modeling studies by other researchers who arrive at a percentage of asymptomatic transmission, which tells us nothing about the input into those models. A proper investigation into the research would discuss the model assumptions and input. Furthermore, models are not reality. Where is the discussion about real-world research in this article? There is none.
10. Zhirong Liu, Ruilin Chu, Lei Gong, Bin Su, Jiabing Wu (2020). The Assessment of Transmission Efficiency and Latent Infection Period in Asymptomatic Carriers of SARS-CoV-2 Infection, International Journal of Infectious Diseases, 99:325-327.
- Our results also showed that the transmission efficiency for asymptomatic carriers was lower than that for confirmed case.
Keep in mind that this is one study, and that repeated results by other researchers is what establishes known facts. Even so, the mere discovery here of less efficient transmission by asymptomatic carriers would not justify treating all people as equally threatening, based on nothing more than fear that they might be.
- 10.9% of the asymptomatic carriers in our study subsequently developed symptoms during the observation period to become confirmed cases.
Or 89.1% of asymptomatic carriers in this study failed to develop symptoms. Focusing on a relatively small percentage, thus, seems unfair to the majority of people in a society, where greater measures of life quality are concerned, such as economic well being and personal freedom to interact or carry on normal human affairs.
Most people who are asymptomatic are unlikely to develop symptoms. Furthermore, there is no way to determine which of this small percentage will develop major symptoms or life threatening symptoms. Judging all asymptomatic people as the same level of threat, then, is irrational. The threat of asymptomatic harm has not been proven to be significant.
- Our study also assessed the transmission efficiency of asymptomatic carriers. Although the attack rate was lower than that for confirmed cases, it was shown to cause infection in 2.6% of close contacts.
Or the attack rate was shown to fail to cause infection in 97.4% of close contacts. Again, focusing on a small percentage to the exclusion of considerations surrounding the much larger majority seems unfair. Doing so feeds paranoia rather than sound policy.
- In conclusion, although the transmission efficiency of asymptomatic carriers is lower than that for confirmed cases, the transmission risk from carriers should not be ignored.
This is a personal judgment, which I have already shown neglects life quality of the greater majority, out of fear of the unknown. The fact that a personal judgment can be stated as a singular scientific conclusion raises questions about standards held by the journal editors. How does this singular judgment follow from the facts? – It does not. It is an opinion tagged onto the end to look like a definitive scientific conclusion.
An equally valid opinion would look something like this:
A Sane Perspective
We are not so partitioned from the universe and from viruses as advocates of a simple masking philosophy might lead many people to believe. Rather, we are complex agglomerations of both living and semi-living stuff, with messy edges that run over into the world around us. We all share, and have always shared, each other's messy edges in some way unavoidably, if we have chosen to live in a society.
There have always been acceptable risks in this unavoidable sharing. Universal face masks, besides being scientifically unfounded and grossly out of proportion to the magnitude of a claimed new disease, obliterate one of the very principles of being human, which is to thrive and grow stronger amid acceptable risks.
Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on October 18, 2020:
"Everybody is reduced to the same standard, muffled, expressionless threat" - It's not muffled. I speak just fine with an M3 P95 mask on and I am not "expressionless". I am of Latin heritage and as You might now we gesticulate a lot (aka talk with our hands). So, I can still be quite full of "expressions" even with a mask on. Like, You could see me squinting at You for this article, even if I had a mask on.
Let's move on. I'm about to dissect your article like a surgeon in front of the operating table. I have to. We cannot allow miscommunication and misinformation to flourish because it is a matter of life and death right now.
"Does the severity of the COVID-19 threat justify forced regulation of an individual’s personal, intimate face space?" - In your "intimate free space" You do as You wish amigo. I am not coming in your bedroom to tell You to put a mask on. If we are at a campground and You have the campground next to me, I am not coming over to tell You to put a mask on. On the other hand, if You are on a bus next to me, You have to put a mask on. Either six feet distance, or mask on - it's simple. In your private/intimate space You do as You wish but when in public close to other humans, we wear a mask.
"Do cloth face masks really perform the way that prominent health organizations and government leaders proclaim?" - Your dentist wears a mask when working in your mouth. Doctors wear them in surgeries. Home renovators wear them at times when working with certain chemicals, or in certain environments. Painters use them as well. I am not getting into your other article. Masks work and they are used in many cases in this world. Get with it already.
"Is universal masking, based on the idea of asymptomatic carriers or asymptomatic cases, a reasonable way to operate human society, where the very basis of a functional, physical society is the grouping of human beings and interaction of human beings with one another?" - Yes, it is a reasonable way to TEMPORARILY operate a society. If I fart in your house, You open the window. That doesn't mean You live forever with your windows open. We do the mask thing now because we are living through a pandemic. That's it. Not forever, or for a millennia, or anything like that. It's: wear a mask in public, when You cannot stay two meters, physically apart from strangers. Not a big deal but You are trying to make it seem as a big deal.
Sigh ... You went on a serious tangent about viruses. Yes amigo, some viruses we can carry in our bodies and they do not affect negatively at all but then, there are viruses which can kill us. Wow!! What a concept, huh?!? Covid-19 kills so, wear a mask when You cannot physically distance yourself from strangers. Simple.
"Even if the SARS-CoV-2 virus can (and most likely does) transfer from an asymptomatic person to another person, I see no convincing evidence that we know what percentage of asymptomatic transfers causes an actual infection manifesting symptoms of the COVID-19 disease." - There is data about an asymptomatic carrier infecting others on a plane. If You do not know about it, that's on You.
"Evidence of asymptomatic transmission from asymptomatic carriers is more limited" - More limited still means infection is happening. So, let's go after that saying: "better safe than sorry" and wear a mask when You cannot physically distance from strangers. Thank You.
"Models, then have been guided by assumptions, not by legitimate evidence." - Well You cannot have perfect models because precisely of people like You. If we all wore a mask when close to others in public, then we could estimate how the virus would decrease with time but because of mask deniers and party-goers during this pandemic, we cannot have a clear idea of how many more people will get infected. We just do not know for sure how many people will not behave and how many more people will encourage others to misbehave (like You are doing here). So, it makes modelling very difficult, for sure but I don't care about modelling as long as I see over a million dead people and more on their way. Just wear a mask when in public and You cannot physically distance.
"It is debatable whether asymptomatic COVID-19 virus carriers are contagious." - No it is not. There has been a case already on an airplane which proved asymptomatic people can infect others. I already mentioned that to You and it really is on You to stop spreading this type of misinformation. I'm just sitting here shaking my head.
"Our results showed that patients with COVID-19 who had more severe symptoms had a higher transmission capacity, whereas transmission capacity from asymptomatic cases was limited." - You are actually providing examples against your own arguments here. Haha!! See that word "limited"? That does not mean transmission does not happen. It happens, it's just "limited". So wear a bloody mask already when You cannot physically distance from strangers.
"there is no way to determine which of this small percentage will develop major symptoms or life threatening symptoms." - Yes, it';s like the lottery: You might die, or You might not. So, who the #$%^ wants to take a chance with that kind of lottery? That's why we have to wear a mask when we cannot physically distance form strangers.
"This is a personal judgment, which I have already shown neglects life quality of the greater majority, out of fear of the unknown." - Out of fear of unnecessary Death, not "unknown". It's "Death" vs your "quality of life". Hmm, yes You are not selfish at all, are You? I'll wear a mask to the grocery store for 100 years if I know that potentially I am helping keep people safe from a virus which can potentially kill them. See how many times I used the word "potentially"? It's not a big price to pay to "just in case" keep people safe but no, You want your "quality of life" to not be disturbed. I am holding back some bad words right now. Haha!!
"A Sane Perspective" - It's not "sane perspective" amigo. It's a very selfish and misguided perspective. Shameful I might add.
I wish You smarten up. Best of luck to You and those around You as You might very well be a danger to yourself and those around You.
T on October 18, 2020:
Actually Chris57, the collision mat is not a good analogy because the main function of wearing the mask is not to keep the virus from coming in but from being spewed out. The collision mat does nothing to keep water from coming out of a hole in a ship.
The theory behind a mask is that if you are 6 feet or more away from the person wearing a mask the virus will not travel far enough to infect another person who is with or without a mask. Without the social distancing a mask is virtually useless.
CHRIS57 from Northern Germany on October 18, 2020:
Do you know what a collision mat is?
It is a piece of canvas you put over a water leak of a ship. It is even a merchandise product: https://www.landfallnavigation.com/collision-mat.h...
Collision mats are not water tight. Their purpose is only to prevent too much water from penetrating into the ship hull. Now, this what a face mask does to humans. Simply hinders (not seals) contaminated air to enter your body (or to exit).
As much as a collision mat does not prevent ships from sinking to 100%, it is good for slowing the process. To me this is exactly what face masks do. Face masks don´t have to be made of high tec fabrics, any recycled shirt cloths or a motorcycle bandana will do to serve the purpose.
Societies who had adopted mask wearing in crowded places long before any 2020 pandemic (Japan, China, Korea) have weathered the pandemic much better than countries like the US or Brazil, who seem to politicise mask wearing and the pandemic in general.
This is not about yourself, it is about respecting the health of those around you. Not a hoax, no lies. Do the critical thinking for yourself. You don´t need media or politics to understand what is behind social distancing, hygiene measures and mask wearing.
CHRIS57 from Northern Germany on October 17, 2020:
This is why i asked for excess deaths explanation.
Why are there execess deaths? Corona? Something else? More drunk driving? Another pandemia?
The CDC is lying?
CHRIS57 from Northern Germany on October 17, 2020:
So - how do you explain the 200 thousand plus deaths in the USA and the excess death count?
Asymptomatic or not - people simply die. Would you please explain? Not necessarily the corona associated deaths, but the excess deaths?
Are more people driving drunk?