The Masks Were Working All Along

Now we have definitive proof that masks really are effective. 

The most urgent question in the world for the past 20 months has been: What’s the best way to stop the spread of the coronavirus? But it’s a frustrating question to answer definitively, since even the most logical solutions have been shrouded in what I’ve called the fog of pandemic.

For example, covering your nose and mouth seems like a sensible way to block virus particles that come out of the mouth and go into the nose. But designing a perfect masking study is hard when state-by-state behavior differs from official masking policies, and when everybody’s wearing a different material over their face. Limiting indoor dining seems like it would help contain a virus that spreads via indoor talking, but we don’t have enough high-quality data to know for sure whether it makes a huge difference. Targeted shutdowns seem likely to prevent social mixing in the short term, but designing an experiment that proves their long-term effectiveness is devilishly difficult.

By contrast, the trials that proved the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines used the gold standard of scientific research, by randomly assigning people to treatment and control groups and then carefully measuring the effect of the medical intervention. If only we had something almost like this for, say, masking: a careful, randomized, real-world experiment on the effect of masks.



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