Whatever Your Governor Says, New Science Gives You Permission to Enjoy Thanksgiving
Most of us care about others and will accept some suffering to avoid calamity. Our public health authorities, abetted by the press, know this. That’s why they’ve done their best to convince us that we had to bear the 2020 hardships—lockdowns, masks, unemployment, deaths of despair— or suffer far worse. Millions, they said, would have died without these crippling measures.
This message appeals to our inner control freak. Yes, we’re told, COVID-19 can cause untold disaster if you don’t know how to contain it, but we’ve got it figured out. The CDC’s pre-Thanksgiving advice puts the empowering message in a nutshell: “Wear a mask, stay at least 6 feet apart, avoid crowds, and wash your hands often. The more steps you take, the more you are protected against COVID-19.”
That makes for a bleak Thanksgiving celebration alright. But surely this is a small price to pay for the thrill of saving the world! And, as we’ve been told over and over in imperious tones, the science tells us that’s just what we’re doing.
WHO Said the Opposite — in 2019
Does it? Just a few months before coronavirus became a household word, the World Health Organization concluded just the opposite. They published a summary of the best scientific assessments of measures for containing a more familiar respiratory virus — the flu. It covered precautions that would have sounded extreme to us at the time (October 2019): contact tracing, wearing face masks, sanitizing of high-touch surfaces, quarantining sick and exposed people, and closing schools and places of work.
What was the bottom line? After decades of study, WHO concluded, “the overall quality of evidence was very low for most interventions.” Moreover, the best studies tended to show these measures didn’t do much if anything. For example, the WHO concluded that “there is a moderate overall quality of evidence that face masks do not have substantial effect on transmission of influenza.”
But few of us read the report. Back then, we were blissfully unconcerned about such matters. If we had been, we might have questioned the ease with which the word “science” was used to justify what came next.
The bliss is now long over, so maybe we should focus on the science that calls these painful measures into question. Two recent studies do just that. One examined the effects of adding masks to other social-distancing recommendations in Denmark, which authorities had not done. The other compared informal at-home quarantine among U.S. Marine recruits to closely supervised quarantine at a closed campus where they reported.
New Danish Mask Study
The Danish study randomly divided thousands of participants into two groups. One group was given a supply of surgical masks and instructed to wear them. The other group was not instructed to wear masks. After one month, both groups were tested for SARS-CoV-2 infection. The result? “No statistically significant difference in SARS-CoV-2 incidence was observed.”
Quote that the next time someone tells you that the science shows masks work for the general population.
Study of Marine Recruits
The study of Marine recruits compares rigorous containment measures (double-layered cloth masks, six-foot separation, no use of electronic devices, bleaching of bathroom and dining areas after each use, etc.) to self-led (at home) measures. These were requested of recruits for two weeks prior to reporting.
The bottom line here was that about 1% of the recruits tested positive after two weeks of at-home measures, whereas about 2% tested positive after two weeks of enforced measures. Those who tested positive on reporting were isolated from the other recruits. Despite that, the rate of spread with enforced rigorous measures was as high (or higher) than the rate under informal measures.
Life is Complicated
Of course, no study will ever be perfect. Human behavior is complex. And it’s hard it to track a virus’s every move. So people who are inclined to dismiss results like these will dismiss them.
Our point is that many respectable (if imperfect) studies give us reason to doubt the value of these measures. As a result, no informed person should believe that science provides clear support for them. And no reasonable person should be content to keep bearing all these burdens when it seems clear that the costs well outweigh the benefits.
You’ve heard the ridiculous calls from governors and public health officials to ruin Thanksgiving. Thankfully, you have good reasons to ignore them.