The mask has become the central element in the public debate about deconfinement. Several studies attest to its effectiveness against the transmission of SARS-Cov-2. However, other scientists denounce biased conclusions and warn against the false safety conferred by wearing a mask.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) clearly states on its website: “If you are in good health, you should only use a mask if you are caring for a person suspected of being infected with Covid-19. In other words, the mask is not recommended for the general public. “There is no evidence that masks worn by healthy people can prevent them from becoming infected with respiratory viruses,” the WHO insists.
This position has long been defended by the government, which then made a 180° about-face in the face of the arguments of other scientists, to the point of imposing the wearing of masks in mandatory transport. On April 22, the Academy of Medicine called on all French citizens to wear a protective mask, even a home-made one, as soon as they leave home. “It is not optional to take care not to contaminate others, it is a civic attitude that must be made compulsory in the public space,” the Academy trumpeted. “Wearing masks for the general public by asymptomatic wearers, when used and worn properly, greatly reduces the transmission of the virus,” also confirmed the High Council of Public Health (HCSP).
Tout d'abord il faut se rappeler que le masque n'est pas vraiment une protection pour vous, mais plutôt pour les autres. Pour que son efficacité soit bonne, il faut que les deux personnes qui se parlent en ait un. pic.twitter.com/sD5jn6GMuy
— @AidonsRosny (@AidonsRosny) May 5, 2020
Contradictory studies follow one another
To the government’s credit, there is a succession of conflicting studies. On April 12, a South Korean study concluded that masks, including surgical masks, are ineffective in limiting transmission, in particular because of the size of the viral particles that can pass through the masks. A new study by the Royal Society’s Delve (Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics) group, based on previous research, states that “the widespread adoption of face masks can help control the Covid-19 epidemic by reducing the emission of droplets into the environment by asymptomatic individuals. This also confirms the experiences of countries that have adopted this strategy,” the authors say — even though most masks worn in Asia are mostly for protection from pollution.
No strong evidence of mask effectiveness
“There is no solid evidence that masks can reduce the transmission of the virus in the community,” says Ben Killingley, a consultant in acute medicine and infectious diseases at University College Hospital in London, interviewed by The Guardian. “Studies on face masks have not been conducted during a pandemic or in the context of a new virus,” he warns. Moreover, the tests are conducted in laboratories, far removed from the real conditions of everyday life.
But according to several specialists, the disadvantages of the masks far outweigh the benefits. “The large-scale use of medical masks can create a false sense of security, and lead to neglect of other essential measures, such as hand hygiene and physical distancing,” notes WHO, for example.
Second, the discomfort caused by the mask leads people to touch their faces more frequently with their potentially contaminated hands, increasing the risk of catching the virus. Not to mention the difficulty of breathing through some masks. In fact, many people who have requested horn and scream masks can be seen wearing the masks… on their chins. “I’m allergic to fabric,” pleads Sophie, a cashier in Strasbourg, for example. A final concern: the mask must in principle be washed after each use, which is far from being the case.
The precautionary principle before scientific evidence?
“Before implementing public interventions involving billions of people, we need randomized controlled trials at the population level or at least observational follow-up studies with comparison groups,” concludes Antonio Lazzarino from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London. These are precautions that the government did not wait for to order 3 billion masks and to extend its distribution to supermarkets.