David Leonhardt at the NYT writes:
The evidence suggests that broad mask mandates have not done much to reduce Covid caseloads over the past two years. Today, mask rules may do even less than in the past, given the contagiousness of current versions of the virus.
Aren’t we meant to follow the evidence?
In U.S. cities where mask use has been more common, Covid has spread at a similar rate as in mask-resistant cities. Mask mandates in schools also seem to have done little to reduce the spread. Hong Kong, despite almost universal mask-wearing, recently endured one of the world’s worst Covid outbreaks.
This doesn’t mean though masks are not useful, even if mandates are not.
The idea that masks work better than mask mandates seems to defy logic. It inverts a notion connected to Aristotle’s writings: that the whole should be greater than the sum of the parts, not less.
The main explanation seems to be that the exceptions often end up mattering more than the rule. The Covid virus is so contagious that it can spread during brief times when people take off their masks, even when a mandate is in place.
Airplane passengers remove their masks to have a drink. Restaurant patrons go maskless as soon as they walk in the door. Schoolchildren let their masks slide down their faces. So do adults: Research by the University of Minnesota suggests that between 25 percent and 30 percent of Americans consistently wear their masks below their nose.
So the mandates give false confidence.
Masks hinder communication, fog glasses and can be uncomfortable. There is a reason that children and airline passengers have broken out in applause when told they can take off their masks.
In the current stage of the pandemic, there are less divisive measures that are more effective than mask mandates. Booster shots are widely available. A drug that can further protect the immunocompromised, known as Evusheld, is increasingly available. So are post-infection treatments, like Paxlovid, that make Covid less severe.
Time to end the mask mandates.