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A Mask Moratorium

COVID SCIENCE AND DATA ALERT!

3/8/21

A MASK MORATORIUM EXCEPTION

So if you’ve been reading my posts you know that not only do I hold the position that masks are all but useless in slowing the spread of the coronavirus (according to the actual SCIENCE AND DATA), but I also promised a while back that I was done writing about this issue since those who “believe” in masks are not really open to actual SCIENCE AND DATA but prefer to live in a sort of cult of personality. Well I am making an exception for this post because of a report just released by the CDC. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Now I’m sure many of you have already read the paper just released by the CDC in their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of March 5, 2021 entitled “Association of State-Issued Mask Mandates and Allowing On-Premises Restaurant Dining with County-Level COVID-19 Case and Death Growth Rates — United States, March 1–December 31, 2020”. No? Was it just me? Well maybe you haven’t gotten to it yet, but you may have seen, or may soon see this graphic:

Growth Rates

Seems pretty cut and dry. The CDC says wearing masks slowed cases and deaths, and eating out increased these metrics. Message – “Stay under your bed and wear your mask (or 2 or 3)!” And as it’s from the CDC and it’s a study with a big important sounding title, it’s got to be legit, right? I’m not going to do a deep dive into this but let’s just dip our toe in the water. As I realize many won’t read the whole post, I’ll give you the take-home message and then for anyone interested in the details you can read on.

Their bottom line: The authors state: “Implementing mask mandates was associated with reduced SARS-CoV-2 transmission, whereas reopening restaurants for on-premises dining was associated with increased transmission.” Well we all “knew” that already, yes?

My bottom line: If I were to ask you by what percentage masks reduced the spread of the
coronavirus, you would say what? 20%? 50%? Just how effective are masks at reducing
the spread of the coronavirus? Well, according to this study (by the CDC, not QAnon)
that looked at every county in America that mandated masks over a 10 month period, the
absolute best case scenario is…wait for it…a 1.8% reduction in daily case growth rate
and a 1.9% decrease in daily death growth rate. That’s it. Why do you think those
numbers are not included in the graphic above? Who would be paying any attention if
they knew the effect was less than 2%? And if you’re interested in learning why even
those tiny numbers are exaggerated and misleading and why the actual numbers are much,
much lower, then read on. If not, and you still insist masks actually do something, then
have a great day. Thanks for playing our game.

OK, for those of you still with me, the study, we are told, looks at every county that
masked up in America (about 74% of the US) and followed their numbers over a 10
month period, so this is not a small study and the results should be an accurate accounting
for the efficacy of these mitigation strategies (masks and closed dining). Now the first
thing to recognize is the word “ASSOCIATED” which is used constantly in this report.
Everyone who knows anything about “scientific” studies knows an association is not the
same thing as a causation and the two should not be conflated. An association provides
no evidence or proof whatsoever of causality. It’s like saying since you always find
firemen at fires, therefore firemen must be the cause of fires. Nonsense of course, but
that’s what often passes for science. Especially these days. This puts the findings of this
study on weak footing from the get-go, but most regular folk would not be aware of this
(Me to the rescue!). By the way, when you see the phrase “statistically significant” in a
study, it doesn’t mean what normal people think it means – that is, “important” or
“noteworthy” or “legitimate” or even "significant". No, it just means that the authors believe that the  result they see is not due simply to random chance (but not necessarily due to the cause to which they attribute it - more on this later). So don’t be fooled by important sounding
authoritative words. As we will see, the observations in case and death changes seen in
this study are in no way provably connected to the causes claimed. Just so you know.

So remembering ALL the hysteria surrounding mask usage you’ve been inundated with
over the last year, and remembering that most of us have been hearing for an entire year
how we “know” that masks are a “game-changer” and how the “science is settled” and
that some masks are as much as 95% effective at reducing “transmission” wouldn’t you
expect something better than 1.8%? And for on-premises dining, once dining was
“allowed” again, the numbers according to this study show an increase in daily case
growth rate of a maximum of 1.2% and of daily death growth rate of at most 3.0%. That’s
it. But that's not the whole story. The authors report: "Allowing any on-premises dining at restaurants was associated with increases in daily COVID-19 case growth rates 41–60, 61–80, and 81–100 days after reopening, and increases in daily COVID-19 death growth rates 61–80 and 81–100 days 
after reopening." What happened in the first 40 days? Why no increases "associated" with the first six weeks? What magic happened in those first six weeks of dining that nobody was getting infected? Might it be, could it possibly be, that the increases observed were not in fact related to dining but actually just the rising tide of seasonal cases? Which makes more sense? Eating in a restaurant caused increases in cases and deaths but ONLY after about six to nine weeks of open dining (or even four weeks if you want to consider a two-week lag between being infected and being diagnosed), or the increased cases were just due to the natural viral infection curve? Your choice. By the way, someone needs to explain how an increase of 1.2% in case growth causes an almost triple that figure increase in death growth. The “official” case fatality rate sits at about 1.8% (it’s really closer to 0.5% or less) so if you attribute this 1.2% increase in cases to dining but the death rate increase caused by that same dining is almost three times as high, how do you explain that? Are these evil diners just much more sickly and old and therefore much more liable to die? Shouldn’t the death rate grow at about the "official" rate of 1.8% of the case rate growth, not three times it? Asking for a friend.

And it’s important to realize that these figures are NOT absolute increases or reductions.
This is not saying that once dining opened back up that deaths went up 3%, not at all.
These are increases or decreases in DAILY GROWTH RATES.

So look at it this way, during the worst of the epidemic (although according to some,
we’re still waiting for the “darkest days”), the daily growth rate of cases was somewhere
around 5%. That means that the number of new cases tomorrow would be about 5% more
than the number of new cases today. So something like 100,000 new cases today and then
about 105,000 new cases tomorrow, got it? So follow me here. If the 1.8% reduction
seen with masks was truly an absolute reduction of 1.8% of total cases (which is still
nothing), that would be reported as an almost 40% reduction in case growth (1.8 is about
2/5th or 40% of 5), which of course would be absurd as masks have never shown any
appreciable reduction in respiratory transmission at all, ever, let alone a 40% impact. But
it is reported as a 1.8% reduction in daily case GROWTH rate, not daily cases. So what
this is saying is that masking up almost every living thing in America showed, at best, at
the end-of-the-rainbow absolute maximum, a 1.8% decrease of an approximately 5%
increase in daily case growth. So in my little example above, the 5,000 case increase from
one day to the next would be reduced by 1.8%, or about 90 cases (1.8% of 5,000). So
instead of growing from 100,000 cases to 105,000 cases (a full 5% increase), it would
grow “only” to 104,910 cases. That is, by the way, an ABSOLUTE reduction of about 1/10th
of 1 percent (a 90 case reduction out of 105,000 cases). So it would appear that all
our masking slowed the daily growth of the virus in society, at best, by about 1/10th of 1 percent. Wow. All that yelling at people without masks, all that demonizing the stupid, selfish,
science-denying grandma-killers, all that driving around in your car alone with the
windows up and a mask on…for a 1/10th of 1 percent benefit. SCIENCE!

Now it’s possible my understanding of the math in this report is wrong as I cannot find
the raw data, but as these results are presented as changes in “daily GROWTH rates” and
not as reductions or increases in “daily cases” or “daily deaths” I’m pretty sure I’ve got it
right. And even if I am wrong, and the 1.8% was an absolute reduction number, these
numbers are still tiny, and “ASSOCIATIONAL”, as the authors admit that (capitalization
mine for emphasis) “COVID-19 case and death growth rates MIGHT ALSO HAVE
INCREASED because of persons engaging in close contact activities other than or in
addition to on-premises restaurant dining in response to perceived reduced risk as a result
of states allowing restaurants to reopen.” And “The findings in this report are subject to AT LEAST THREE LIMITATIONS. First, although models controlled for mask mandates, restaurant and bar closures, stay-at-home orders, and gathering bans, the models DID NOT
CONTROL FOR OTHER POLICIES that might affect case and death rates, including
other types of business closures, physical distancing recommendations, policies issued by
localities, and variances granted by states to certain counties if variances were not made
publicly available. Second, compliance with and enforcement of policies WERE NOT 
MEASURED. Finally, the analysis DID NOT DIFFERENTIATE between indoor and outdoor dining, adequacy of ventilation, and adherence to physical distancing and occupancy requirements.” And of course they completely ignored my personal favorite variable…SEASONALITY. 

So understand that as hard as they tried (and if you don’t believe that the CDC was looking for every single possible way to show masks work, I’ve got a bridge to sell you), the best they could come up with is a tiny, very weak, association between masks and reduction in cases, or eating out and an increase in cases. Tiny and weak. The authors clearly admit that while they’re pretty sure the changes they see are not due to random chance, they can in no way say definitively that the changes they see are due in whole or even in part to masks or dining. That’s the FACT of the matter.

So, was it worth all the hysteria? Was it worth having adults yell at children telling them
they hope they die because some kids didn’t have masks on while they were playing
outside or in the supermarket? Was it worth the strained relations between friends and even family members? How about restaurants? Was the weakly-associated tiny increase in case and death growth worth some 17% of restaurants closing either long-term or permanently? That’s about 110,000 restaurants or bars. With only about 48% of restaurant owners saying they may reopen at some point. That’s about 2.5 million jobs, and all the collateral damage to
families who lost that income. And that’s not just college kids working at the local pub
and grub to make a few bucks, that’s tens of thousands of people who put everything they
had into a business that was summarily taken away from them because of…you know,
science. And please don’t tell me that this research is “hindsight” so we can't hold anyone accountable for this nonsense. I’ve been railing against this mask nonsense for months and months. And I’m no genius, just a guy who can look at the actual SCIENCE AND DATA rationally.

1.8%. Or probably only 1/10th of 1 percent. But let’s keep listening to those experts.
They seem to know what they’re doing…

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