Ahead of my father's funeral: Arguing with a sister and the vicar about mask wearing – here is what the CDC says

Tom Winnifrith Thursday 22 October 2020


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If you have actually looked at scientific studies, at facts, at hard data, you will by now be convinced that wearing masks will not stop you either catching or spreading Coronavirus. But folks find all sorts of reasons for not actually studying the data as I discovered when discussing my father’s funeral with the vicar and a sister. I am still unspeakably angry with Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock for the way we must tell people they cannot be with his family next week. But it seems the vicar and at least one sister goes along with the GroupThink.  Among their arguments for not only wearing a muzzle themselves but also for being cross with we refuseniks were:

There is a a 99 year old in my congregation so I must protect her
A: But masks don’t do that. And anyhow, the average life expectancy in the UK is 81, the average Covid death is at 82. There are almost no recorded flu death cases this year for the first time in history. Do you not consider the possibility that Covid is simply doing what flu normally does anyway? But I guess your words trump my hard data and show that you care and I am just selfish.

I cannot disobey the rules of the Bishop.
A That is what those snitching on and catching Ann Frank said. Were those who disobeyed the rules and hid the Jewish girl and her family wrong for doing so?

My mother in law works in a hospital and was in tears talking about Covid patients.
A. Yes but mask wearing will not stop covid

I know the rules are utterly illogical but what can I do?
A. Yes it is crazy that only 15 can go to a wedding, 30 to a funeral but 70 to a crammed pub and this will somehow stop Covid in a uniform way. What can you do to stop crazy rules? Do what folks in Boston did when confronted with crazy and unjustifiable taxes on tea. Protest, refuse to accept the rules. If you just go along with them, those making unjust and bonkers laws will just make even more unjust and bonkers laws.

I am sure our leaders know what they are doing?
A. They don’t. Here is some data to prove it. Anyhow, surely the multiple & demonstrable lies told by Boris, Hancock etc show that they have not got a scooby? Just how credulous are you? Do you want to buy a bridge in London?

You do not have a double blind experiment to show that mask wearing is pointless.
A. Well actually c/o the US CDC here are a few which demonstrate precisely that point. On the other hand, with no evidence that masks do work, the Government wishes to muzzle the entire population and you are happy to go along with this.

I will not be wearing a mask when preaching, the choir will not when singing and you will not when speaking or reading a lesson but everyone else must at all times but this is a rational well thought out policy.
A. So Mr Covid has agreed to play ball in only doing his worst on certain folks at certain times in the service. Thanks for explaining that to me. I guess this position on when Mr Covid goes into bat and against who is backed by a double blind study then?

You can’t argue with us as it is hurtful.
A. Okay neither of them said that but I am braced for family flak for writing this piece. But I write it as my father would have written it because we are, as nation, being bullied into doing things for which there is zero evidence at all. When an intolerant regime acts in this way, it is one’s duty to stand up and say No! Even if that offends folks who you care about and who mean well but are happy to go along with the regime. 

So now over to the Centre of Disease Control in the US. which in May 2020 published “Nonpharmaceutical Measures for Pandemic Influenza in Nonhealthcare Settings—Personal Protective and Environmental Measures”. I quote:

Respiratory Etiquette

Respiratory etiquette is defined as covering the nose and mouth with a tissue or a mask (but not a hand) when coughing or sneezing, followed by proper disposal of used tissues, and proper hand hygiene after contact with respiratory secretions (30). Other descriptions of this measure have included turning the head and covering the mouth when coughing and coughing or sneezing into a sleeve or elbow, rather than a hand. The rationale for not coughing into hands is to prevent subsequent contamination of other surfaces or objects (31). We conducted a search on November 6, 2018, and identified literature that was available in the databases during 1946–November 5, 2018. We did not identify any published research on the effectiveness of respiratory etiquette in reducing the risk for laboratory-confirmed influenza or ILI. One observational study reported a similar incidence rate of self-reported respiratory illness (defined by >1 symptoms: cough, congestion, sore throat, sneezing, or breathing problems) among US pilgrims with or without practicing respiratory etiquette during the Hajj (32). The authors did not specify the type of respiratory etiquette used by participants in the study. A laboratory-based study reported that common respiratory etiquette, including covering the mouth by hands, tissue, or sleeve/arm, was fairly ineffective in blocking the release and dispersion of droplets into the surrounding environment on the basis of measurement of transmitted droplets with a laser diffraction system (31).

Respiratory etiquette is often listed as a preventive measure for respiratory infections. However, there is a lack of scientific evidence to support this measure. Whether respiratory etiquette is an effective nonpharmaceutical intervention in preventing influenza virus transmission remains questionable, and worthy of further research.

Face Masks

Thumbnail of Meta-analysis of risk ratios for the effect of face mask use with or without enhanced hand hygiene on laboratory-confirmed influenza from 10 randomized controlled trials with 6,500 participants. A) Face mask use alone; B) face mask and hand hygiene; C) face mask with or without hand hygiene. Pooled estimates were not made if there was high heterogeneity (I2 >75%). Squares indicate risk ratio for each of the included studies, horizontal lines indicate 95% CIs, dashed vertical

In our systematic review, we identified 10 RCTs that reported estimates of the effectiveness of face masks in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza virus infections in the community from literature published during 1946–July 27, 2018. In pooled analysis, we found no significant reduction in influenza transmission with the use of face masks (RR 0.78, 95% CI 0.51–1.20; I2 = 30%, p = 0.25) (Figure 2). One study evaluated the use of masks among pilgrims from Australia during the Hajj pilgrimage and reported no major difference in the risk for laboratory-confirmed influenza virus infection in the control or mask group (33).

Two studies in university settings assessed the effectiveness of face masks for primary protection by monitoring the incidence of laboratory-confirmed influenza among student hall residents for 5 months (9,10). The overall reduction in ILI or laboratory-confirmed influenza cases in the face mask group was not significant in either studies (9,10). Study designs in the 7 household studies were slightly different: 1 study provided face masks and P2 respirators for household contacts only (34), another study evaluated face mask use as a source control for infected persons only (35), and the remaining studies provided masks for the infected persons as well as their close contacts (11–13,15,17). None of the household studies reported a significant reduction in secondary laboratory-confirmed influenza virus infections in the face mask group (11–13,15,17,34,35). Most studies were underpowered because of limited sample size, and some studies also reported suboptimal adherence in the face mask group.

Disposable medical masks (also known as surgical masks) are loose-fitting devices that were designed to be worn by medical personnel to protect accidental contamination of patient wounds, and to protect the wearer against splashes or sprays of bodily fluids (36). There is limited evidence for their effectiveness in preventing influenza virus transmission either when worn by the infected person for source control or when worn by uninfected persons to reduce exposure. Our systematic review found no significant effect of face masks on transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza.


So the muzzles that the vicar and my sister insist I wear if I care about not killing people will have no effect controlling the flu virus, why will they control Covid? They will not, but at least mask wearers can feel that they cared and showed it by lecturing we folk who, having bothered to study the data, respect the science and know that face muzzling is utterly pointless.

I cite these 10 studies which the CDC has compiled for us. Now before folks trot off and act like Good Germans where do they have 1 iota of evidence, i.e data not emotion or supposition, that the orders they are so happy to obey are anything other than pointless? 

About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
[email protected]
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