Masks were ineffective and likely counterproductive
The CDC finally said that vaccinated people can ditch the masks. Where I live (in a free red state), a lot of people promptly did. Now, at stores, nobody asks whether those without masks are vaccinated. We trust them to make their own decisions. However, a lot of people are still wearing those skimpy, often dirty rags on their faces. It turns out that they should ditch them, too, because a new, comprehensive study found that masks made no difference to the Wuhan virus's spread.
Because I'd come from California, with its many wildfires, I had N95 masks on hand when the virus started. We wore them, and they may well have stopped a few virus particles from passing through. Of course, the fact that my limited supply meant that we also re-wore them and, about once a week, washed them with liquid detergent suggests that their protection was dubious at best.
Compared to our fellow Americans, we were well protected. Whenever we ventured out, we saw people wearing the equivalent of t-shirts or napkins on their faces. They had them under their noses, they touched them constantly, they shuffled them repeatedly in and out of pockets and bags, and they generally rendered them completely ineffective at stopping viruses. My feeling all year was that the masks were pure theater.
I was right. A study from the University of Louisville, one that initially believed that masks did help, looked at CDC data found — and discovered that masks were useless when it came to stopping COVID's spread:
Randomized control trials have not clearly demonstrated mask efficacy against respiratory viruses, and observational studies conflict on whether mask use predicts lower infection rates. We hypothesized that statewide mask mandates and mask use are associated with lower COVID-19 case growth rates in the United States.
Methods We calculated total COVID-19 case growth and mask use for the continental United States with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. We estimated post-mask mandate case growth in non-mandate states using median issuance dates of neighboring states with mandates.
Results Case growth was not significantly different between mandate and non-mandate states at low or high transmission rates, and surges were equivocal. Mask use predicted lower case growth at low, but not high transmission rates. Growth rates were comparable between states in the first and last mask use quintiles adjusted for normalized total cases early in the pandemic and unadjusted after peak Fall-Winter infections. Mask use did not predict Summer 2020 case growth for non-Northeast states or Fall-Winter 2020 growth for all continental states.
Conclusions Mask mandates and use are not associated with slower state-level COVID-19 spread during COVID-19 growth surges. Containment requires future research and implementation of existing efficacious strategies.
Perhaps if everyone had first disinfected his hands and then placed high-end, single-use N95 masks snugly over his face, the data might have been different. What really happened was that people lost a year of seeing each other's faces. In addition, they suffered from low oxygen intake, they developed rashes, they damaged their dental health, and they wasted a lot of money on foolish face coverings.
If you look at the results in the states that lifted the mask requirement first they saw a drop in the number of cases. Texas and Florida for example have greatly reduced cases. Meanwhile, in Washington State where the mask requirement is in full swing, they are still reporting a significant number of cases. It could be the cool humid climate in Washington that is making it harder to contain the virus. The state was one of the early ones in contracting the disease. But the fact is that the lockdown states have faired worse than the free states both economically and in cases of the virus.