Misguided Guidance: The Failure of the U. S. Response to the China Virus

When a theory no longer fits the facts, then the reasonable thing to do is to reassess that theory, and adjust it or adopt a new one. For many months now, the theory for defeating the corona virus has incorporated these fundamentals: mask-wearing and social distancing, hand-washing, and lockdowns. [1] But after nearly a year of employing these methods to fight the virus, there has been no improvement in control of the virus: instead, the end of 2020 saw a resurgence of the virus to levels as severe as were seen in April 2020. [2] This, in spite of all the mask-wearing, social distancing, hand-washing, and lockdowns.

Is it not past time that we rethink these approaches to defeating the virus, and implement better ones?

Let’s take a look at the concepts underlying each of these anti-viral measures of the conventional wisdom.

Mask-wearing. The idea that wearing a mask will protect you from catching the virus implies that the mask will effectively filter inhaled breath aerosols from infected persons. However, these aerosols consist of particles measured in sizes on the order of one micron, or one millionth of a meter. In order for a mask to be effective in protecting against the corona virus, it must have the special physical filter properties and sealing characteristics capable of handling such tiny particles. The simple fact is that masks available to most of the population do not incorporate the characteristics necessary to filter the corona virus. Strong evidence from a recent study of surgical mask use conducted in April 2020 and reported in November supports this view:

A high-quality, large-scale Danish study finds no evidence that wearing a face mask significantly minimizes people’s risk of contracting COVID-19. The randomized-control trial found no statistically significant difference in coronavirus infection rates between mask-wearers and non-mask-wearers. In fact, according to the data, mask usage may actually increase the likelihood of infection. [3, 4]

This study is much more convincing than that favorite of the CDC involving two St. Louis hairstylists and 139 of their customers. [5] But beyond the studies, it is important to examine the basic physics of the matter, which has directly to do with filter efficiency. This information from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy provides a summary of filter efficiencies derived from studies testing transmission of particles representative of the aerosols transporting the corona virus:

“Filter efficiency was measured across a wide range of small particle sizes (0.02 to 1 µm) at 33 and 99 L/min. N95 respirators had efficiencies greater than 95% (as expected). For the entire range of particles tested, t-shirts had 10% efficiency, scarves 10% to 20%, cloth masks 10% to 30%, sweatshirts 20% to 40%, and towels 40%. All of the cloth masks and materials had near zero efficiency at 0.3 µm, a particle size that easily penetrates into the lungs.

Another study evaluated 44 masks, respirators, and other materials with similar methods and small aerosols (0.08 and 0.22 µm). N95 FFR filter efficiency was greater than 95%. Medical masks exhibited 55% efficiency, general masks 38% and handkerchiefs 2% (one layer) to 13% (four layers).

These studies demonstrate that cloth or homemade masks will have very low filter efficiency (2% to 38%). Medical masks are made from a wide range of materials, and studies have found a wide range of filter efficiency (2% to 98%), with most exhibiting 30% to 50% efficiency.

We reviewed other filter efficiency studies of makeshift cloth masks made with various materials. Limitations included challenge aerosols that were poorly characterized or too large or flow rates that were too low. [6]

These statements clearly show that that for the great majority of the population, the masks they wear are not effective filters for breath aerosols. Even surgical masks are only 55% effective. The key conclusions from this review are:

Cloth masks are ineffective as source control and PPE, surgical masks have some role to play in preventing emissions from infected patients, and respirators are the best choice for protecting healthcare and other frontline workers, but not recommended for source control. These recommendations apply to pandemic and non-pandemic situations. [6]

The bottom line is clear: only an N95 respirator provides anything close to adequate protection from the corona virus. Therefore, mask-wearing as currently recommended by the CDC [7] is ineffective.

Social Distancing. For the researchers, social distancing means reduction of contacts between people that could spread the virus, and there are studies which attempt to assess the effectiveness of such measures. [8, 9] But there is no credible definition for the precise meaning of “contact.” The most recent definition from the CDC defines “close contact” as being within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes within a 24 hour period. [10] This definition is not based on any rigorous data, but rather a single incident. [11,12] And unfortunately, this definition does not account for the physical characteristics of viral material carried by breath aerosols. These aerosols have the capability to remain airborne for hours, [13] while sustaining their viral infectivity:

SARS-CoV-2–infected persons may produce viral bioaerosols that remain infectious for long periods after production through human shedding and airborne transport. [14]

Therefore the real situation is that airborne virus particles could be anywhere we go. In an outdoor situation, wind currents will rapidly disperse and reduce the concentrations of such particles. But indoors, where the atmosphere we breathe is contained in an essentially closed space, airborne virus concentrations can persist. Even if abiding religiously by the social distancing rules, people are still frequenting closed spaces as they conduct the necessary business of daily life, such as shopping, working, attending school, or visiting the doctor or dentist. These closed spaces are ideal environments for the transmission of the virus, as they contain and limit the dispersal of infectious breath aerosols.

The social distancing theory exacerbates the already errant mask-wearing theory. People wear their masks, stay 6 feet apart to the best of their ability, and routinely breathe the exhalations of anyone who has been there before them, perhaps as long as hours before, in those closed spaces. They therefore expose themselves to infection while thinking they are not exposed. The approved protection methods actually result in precisely the opposite of the intended result. Considering this reality, it is no surprise that propagation of the virus continues to accelerate.

Hand-washing. This protective measure is no doubt helpful in general for maintaining health. However, since Corona virus transmissison via surfaces is unlikely, [15] this measure also is not one that is going to help most people to avoid the virus.

Lockdowns. The theory behind lockdowns is that they will reduce interactions between infected and uninfected people, and therefore reduce the spread of the pandemic. But is it really as simple as that? The problem with lockdowns is that they don’t take into account the fact that this virus makes a sharp distinction between vulnerable and non-vulnerable populations. According to CDC data, the average infection fatality rate for the corona virus is 0.175 percent, if the fatality rate for seniors 70 and over is excluded from the calculation. [16] This is not even twice as much as the average infection rate for the flu, which is 0.1 percent. Yet no one contemplates severe lockdowns due to the flu.

Keeping in mind the fact that those who need to be protected are only a limited sector of the population, consider what lockdowns actually accomplish. Lockdowns force everyone into extended stays in their homes, therefore causing protracted and unnecessary interactions between more vulnerable and less vulnerable populations, such as older parents and college-age students. Despite the lockdowns, people must still conduct the essential aspects of daily life, and therefore, no matter how draconian the lockdown, the virus still has a pathway into those locked down homes. By increasing the exposure of more vulnerable populations to less vulnerable populations, the lockdowns likely have accelerated both the the spread of the virus and its deadly effects:

A new study compiled by experts from Stanford University, has found that severe lockdown restrictions, such as stay at home orders and closure of businesses, have no “clear, significant benefits” in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and may in fact increase infection rates. [17]

Beyond the adverse effects of lockdowns on the effort to fight the pandemic itself, the perilous side effects of lockdowns must be considered. Government decision makers, particulary governors, have ignored these effects, and are thus guilty of operating with extreme myopia, apparently lacking any ability to step back and gain perspective on the aggregate effects of their actions. Lockdown measures all appear to be focused solely on the spread of the virus, and do not include consideration of other significant impacts to society, such as the loss of other critical health care, especially for cancer, mental health, and substance abuse. The lockdowns have also resulted in significant surges in domestic violence and suicides, besides the myriad negative impacts of the resulting economic devastation. [18, 19] And beyond all of this has been the unexpected loss of our civil liberties, which should alert everyone to the rapidity with which the progressive inclination toward totalitarian control can engulf our society.

The Overall Effects of the Corona Virus Policies. To sum up: we tell people to mask up and social distance, with useless masks and irrelevant distances, thereby creating an ideal continuous infection environment; we facilitate the extended mixing of vulnerable and non-vulnerable populations with lockdowns, which accelerates the spread of the virus; and then we wonder why the pandemic continues to surge, seemingly without limit.

Here is an alternative governmental approach for beating this pandemic.

Be honest. Tell the people the actual facts. Such as the facts that only N95 masks properly worn can effectively filter the virus; cloth masks are worthless; social distancing will not protect you. Advise vulnerable populations to be conscientious in properly wearing those N95 masks whenever they enter a room which has been visited by someone who has been out and about, and is therefore potentially infected: even if that is a family member; even at home; and even if that visit happened hours previously.

Focus on the vulnerable population. Make effective N95 masks available on an emergency basis. There is no reason why this cannot be done. Economies of scale can greatly reduce the cost of these masks. [20] Augment the masks themselves with a broad effort to provide training in how to properly wear the masks. And a concerted effort must be made to understand and correct the disproportionate and utterly tragic loss of life in the nursing homes. [21] Whatever the cost of protecting the vulnerable population, it will not come close to the massive costs incurred by the current policies of lockdowns and the associated gargantuan government payouts, which are in the main directed at protecting populations which are not vulnerable to the virus, and which have resulted in enormous societal disruption, overloaded hospitals, and unnecessary loss of life.

Dispense with the lockdowns and the mandates. Coercion doesn’t work. Let people make their own best judgments as to how to protect themselves, and let the non-vulnerable population get back to work.

Publish accurate data. The data which we are provided about corona virus fatalities is misleading at best, significantly overstating fatalities. [22, 23] It is therefore driving decisions and panic which are completely unwarranted. This must be corrected. Proper decision-making cannot be accomplished without truthful and accurate data.

What would have happened if this had been a really dangerous pandemic, threatening a large majority of the population rather than just a small fraction? In such a scenario, bandaid protective measures like useless masks, social distancing, and lockdowns would be futile. For future pandemics, we had better be ready to exercise measures with real protective capability.

References.

1. “Things You Need To Know.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 5, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/need-to-know.html

2 “COVIDView Weekly Summary. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 22, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/index.html

3. Davidson, Jordan. “Major Study Finds Masks Don’t Reduce COVID-19 Infection Rates. The Federalist. November 18, 2020. https://thefederalist.com/2020/11/18/major-study-finds-masks-dont-reduce-covid-19-infection-rates/

4. Bundgaard, Henning, et. al. “Effectiveness of Adding a Mask Recommendation to Other Public Health Measures to Prevent SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Danish Mask Wearers.” Annals of Internal Medicine. 18 November, 2020. https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M20-6817

5. Badger, Doug and Norbert, Michel. “Mask Mandates: Do They Work? Are There Better Ways to Control COVID-19 Outbreaks?” The Heritage Foundation. December 27, 2020. https://www.heritage.org/public-health/report/mask-mandates-do-they-work-are-there-better-ways-control-covid-19-outbreaks

6. Brosseau, Lisa M. and Sietsema, Margaret. “COMMENTARY: Masks-for-all for COVID-19 not based on sound data.” Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. April 1, 2020. https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2020/04/commentary-masks-all-covid-19-not-based-sound-data

7. “Considerations for Wearing Masks.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. December 18, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover-guidance.html

8. Matraj, Laura and Leung, Tiffany. “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Social Distancing Interventions to Delay or Flatten the Epidemic Curve of Coronavirus Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. August, 2020. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/8/20-1093_article

9. Mahtani, Kamal R., Heneghan, Carl and Aronson, Jeffrey K. “What is the evidence for social distancing during global pandemics? A rapid summary of current knowledge.” CEBM Research: Oxford COVID-19 Evidence Service. 19 March, 2020. https://www.cebm.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/What-is-the-evidence-for-social-distancing-during-global-pandemics-final-1.pdf

10. “Appendices: Close Contact.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 21 October 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/contact-tracing/contact-tracing-plan/appendix.html#contact

11. Sullivan, William. “Social Distancing is Snake Oil not Science.” The American Thinker. May 11, 2020. https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2020/05/social_distancing_is_snake_oil_not_science.html

12. Sun, Lena H.. “CDC expands definition of who is a ‘close contact’ of an individual with covid-19.” Washington Post. October 21, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/10/21/coronavirus-close-contact-cdc/

13. Maynard, Andrew. “How long do aerosol particles stay airborne?” Edge of Innovation. July 20, 2020. https://medium.com/edge-of-innovation/how-long-do-aerosol-particles-stay-airborne-7c660e089d9b

14. “Persistence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 in Aerosol Suspensions.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September, 2020. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/9/20-1806_article

15. Watson, Stephanie. “Coronavirus on Surfaces: What’s the Real Risk?” WebMD. September 3, 2020. https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200903/coronavirus-on-surfaces-whats-the-real-risk

16. Mora, Edwin. “CDC Data Shows High Virus Survival Rate: 99%-Plus for Ages 69 and Younger, 94.6% for Older.” Breitbart. 25 September, 2020. https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2020/09/25/cdc-data-shows-high-virus-survival-rate-99-plus-for-ages-69-and-younger-94-6-for-older/

17. Haynes, Michael. “Stanford study: Lockdowns have no significant effect in reducing COVID-19, may even spread it.” Lifesite News. January 14, 2021. https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/stanford-study-lockdowns-have-no-significant-effect-in-reducing-covid-19-may-even-spread-it

18. Spaulding IV, Reed. “The Unintended Consequences of COVID-19 Lockdowns.” The American Spectator. May 4, 2020. https://spectator.org/the-unintended-consequences-of-covid-19-lockdowns/

19. Polumbo, Brad. “4 Life-Threatening Unintended Consequences of the Lockdowns.” August 25, 2020. Foundation for Economic Education. August 25, 2020. https://fee.org/articles/4-life-threatening-unintended-consequences-of-the-lockdowns/

20. Holdeman, Eric. “The Cost of N95 Masks.” Government Technology. February 27, 2020. https://www.govtech.com/em/emergency-blogs/disaster-zone/the-cost-of-n95-masks-if-you-can-find-them.html

21. Hochman, David. “Four Months That Left 54,000 Dead From COVID in Long-Term Care.” AARP. December 3, 2020. https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/health/info-2020/covid-19-nursing-homes-an-american-tragedy.html

22. “CDC report shows MSM, WHO misinterpreting COVID-19 data.” One America News Network. December 23, 2020. https://web.archive.org/web/20210112034334/https://www.oann.com/cdc-says-msm-who-misinterpreting-covid-19-data/

23. Lennox, Stacey. “It Is Long Past Time for the CDC and NCHS to Clean Up the COVID-19 Death Counts.” PJMedia. December 23, 2020. https://pjmedia.com/columns/stacey-lennox/2020/12/23/it-is-long-past-time-for-the-cdc-and-nchs-to-clean-up-the-covid-19-death-counts-n1227508