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A growing number of universities, businesses and hospitals in recent weeks have reinstituted mask mandates and social distancing requirements, and a new report warned that broader mandates may be coming this fall.
At the same time, the Biden administration is pushing for the public to get COVID-19 booster shots for the fall and winter seasons — even though President Joe Biden ended the COVID-19 public health and national emergencies in May, as did the World Health Organization (WHO), citing an overall low level of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.
Meanwhile, recently released documents from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reveal that public health officials privately questioned the effectiveness of masks and the guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) promoting their use.
While some experts have openly called for the widespread use of masks to return, experts who spoke with The Defender questioned the need for mandates and the effectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses.
“Masks are not effective against the spread of viruses like COVID-19,” said Brian Hooker, Ph.D., senior director of science and research for Children’s Health Defense (CHD). “The virus is much too small to be blocked by a cloth/paper mask and even N95 masks have very limited effectiveness in reducing transmission.”
What do you call re-imposing mask policies that have been proven ineffective or restarting lockdowns that are known to cause harm?
You don’t call it sanity.
These terrible policies only work with your cooperation. How about refusing to participate…
— Joseph A. Ladapo, MD, PhD (@FLSurgeonGen) August 24, 2023
Dr. Meryl Nass, an internist and member of CHD’s scientific advisory committee, told The Defender that while medical professionals may “benefit from short periods” of mask-wearing before disposing of them, “Regular people who use these masks and are not trained in their use probably get no benefit and may well be at greater risk.”
Is threat of new mandates being used to push COVID boosters?
CBS News reported that several new COVID-19 variants have surfaced in recent weeks and are spreading across the U.S. These include the EG.5 variant, “estimated to be the ‘dominant’ strain in the U.S.,” FL.1.5.1 and a “highly mutated” strain, BA.2.86.
These strains have caught the attention of public health authorities and the WHO, which on Aug. 9 declared EG.5 (“Eris”) a “variant of interest,” even though the WHO acknowledged there’s no evidence the strain leads to more severe disease than its predecessors.
Yet, CNN also reported there were “four new hospital admissions for every 100,000 people” in the U.S. for the week ending Aug. 12, “which is considered low.”
The CDC continues to recommend universal masking in areas where 20 or more people per 100,000 are hospitalized with COVID-19, and masking for “high-risk” individuals where between 10-19.9 people per 100,000 are hospitalized with COVID-19.
CNN cited a “growing number of hospitalizations” and increased virus levels in wastewater as “an early indication of a COVID spike.”
Universities, hospitals push mask mandates citing reports of ‘positive cases’
Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia, announced Sunday it is reinstating a mask mandate, social distancing and bans on large gatherings as a precaution and for a two-week period, citing “reports of positive cases among students at the Atlanta University Center” — but not the university’s main campus.
Rutgers University, which also requires indoor masking, announced it is maintaining its COVID-19 vaccine requirement for the new academic year, and that students granted a medical or religious exemption may still be barred from campus attendance.
Rutgers previously announced that, as of Aug. 15, it would begin disenrolling students who had not complied with its vaccine requirement. In June, a federal appeals court heard arguments in an ongoing lawsuit supported by CHD challenging Rutgers’ policy.
According to No College Mandates, 90 U.S. universities require COVID-19 vaccines.
There are 90 colleges that are still mandating COVID vaccines for fall. That is 90 too many. pic.twitter.com/uQfo4m1Ftk
— No College Mandates (@NCM4Ever) August 23, 2023
In California, Kaiser Permanente on Tuesday announced the reinstatement of a mask mandate for its Santa Rosa facilities.
Also in California, Hollywood studio Lionsgate reinstated mask mandates on Monday, until further notice, for employees on the third and fifth floors of its five-story headquarters in Santa Monica, affecting nearly half the company’s employees. The policy change came in response to several positive COVID-19 cases among its employees.
According to Deadline.com, all Lionsgate employees are required to perform a daily self-screening before coming to the office and must stay home if they exhibit any symptoms or have traveled internationally in the last 10 days.
Americans have had enough COVID hysteria. WE WILL NOT COMPLY! https://t.co/2lgmJQJthC
— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene🇺🇸 (@RepMTG) August 22, 2023
And in an Instagram post Tuesday, actor Jamie Lee Curtis posted a photo of herself wearing a cloth mask, accompanied by a message reading “COVID is on the rise. SO MANY friends now are really sick. BE MINDFUL. WEAR A MASK if required or even if you feel unwell and are out in public spaces,” and suggesting masking will “be back.”
Some medical experts also recently spoke in favor of masks. A Royal Society report published Thursday found “clear evidence … that stringent implementation of packages of NPIs [non-pharmaceutical interventions] was effective in some countries in reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2.”
NPIs include masks, social distancing, lockdowns and travel restrictions.
In an editorial published Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a group of Washington doctors called for mask mandates to return to healthcare settings.
Cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Reiner told CNN members of “high-risk” groups should “take some precautions and wear a mask in crowds,” while Dr. Trish Greenhalgh, a primary healthcare expert at the University of Oxford, tweeted on Aug. 15 that “it looks like it’s once again time to MASK UP.”
TSA whistleblowers allege mask mandates for air travel are coming back
These mandates — and calls for their further rollout — came as Infowars.com on Aug. 18 published a story citing unnamed “whistleblowers” from the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) and Border Patrol who claim the Biden administration will require TSA employees to be masked beginning in mid-September.
By mid-October, the whistleblowers claimed, “mask-wearing will be required by pilots, flight staff, passengers, and airport patrons.”
The Defender was unable to verify the whistleblowers’ claims.
And on Monday, Natalie Winters, co-host and executive editor of Steve Bannon’s War Room, tweeted information from USASpending.gov, claiming it shows the Biden administration is ramping up spending for “COVID-19 equipment and hiring consultants to enforce pandemic-era ‘safety protocols.’”
The federal government has already begun buying COVID-19 equipment and hiring consultants to enforce pandemic-era “safety protocols.”
Some of these contracts are scheduled to begin in September and October. pic.twitter.com/7jxuTx91CM
— Natalie Winters (@nataliegwinters) August 21, 2023
The spending data, however, appears to be inconclusive. It includes $1.7-$3.3 million for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) “for ensuring adequate COVID-19 safety protocols for federal contractors,” $1.3 million for “COVID-19 testing reagents and equipment” for the VA, and $2 million in COVID-19, HIV and HPV tests for the VA.
The U.S. Department of Defense contracted an additional $1.5 million, specifically for “COVID testing services” at an army medical center in Washington. However, for each of these four contracts, the amount spent as of this writing is $0.
Yet, the Biden administration confirmed on Sunday that it plans to encourage all Americans to receive a COVID-19 booster, and flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) vaccines this autumn, according to Reuters.
The same report stated that Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Novavax have developed updated boosters targeting the XBB.1.5 subvariant and expect to distribute them in the coming weeks, pending regulatory approval. Pfizer and Moderna said their boosters have also shown effectiveness against subvariants such as “Eris.”
A CDC official reiterated the Biden administration’s calls for people to get the COVID-19, flu and RSV vaccines in remarks earlier today.
According to CNN, “pediatricians are poised for the typical return-to-school surge in all kinds of respiratory illness, whether colds, flu or COVID.”
The Biden administration also recently appointed new directors for the CDC, the NIH, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the newly created Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy — all of whom have previously supported vaccine and mask mandates and COVID-19-related restrictions.
Previous transportation mask mandate struck down, but decision vacated
A federal judge in Florida, in April 2022, struck down the Biden administration’s previous transportation mask mandate, following a lawsuit filed by the Health Freedom Defense Fund. CHD supported the suit.
“Here, the government has carried its burden: there is no reasonable basis to expect the Mandate will be reinstated if this case is rendered moot. By its own terms, the Mandate expired after the HHS [Department of Health and Human Services] Secretary declared that the public health emergency has ended, and there is no hint that this decision was an effort to avoid further litigation.
“Further, nothing in the text of the Mandate suggests it can be revived after its expiration, and there is not a grain of evidence that the CDC has any plans to promulgate an identical mandate.”
CHD Senior Counsel Ray Flores told The Defender that while the federal government traditionally exerts its authority only over federal employees, “the transportation case was different.”
According to Flores, the CDC “claimed authorization by its interpretation of the word ‘sanitation,’ or the phrase, ‘and other measures, as in [its] judgment may be necessary,” from Section 264(a) of the Public Health Service Act, to require everyone boarding public transportation to wear a mask, he said.
Masks ‘do not prevent the spread of respiratory viruses’
Recently released documents show that some key public health experts expressed reservations about the effectiveness of masks.
A November 2021 letter obtained by The Functional Government Initiative following a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., MPH, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, argued the CDC was promoting flawed mask data and excluded data which did not fit its narrative.
Osterholm, along with seven colleagues who co-signed the letter, asked the CDC to reconsider its claims regarding the “efficacy of masks and face coverings for preventing transmission of SARS-CoV-2,” adding that “the information and recommendations as provided may actually put an individual at increased risk of becoming infected.”
A meta-analysis published in Cochrane in January found masks were largely ineffective in reducing the spread of COVID-19. Cochrane has been described as “the gold standard” and “major source of high-quality, reputable meta-analyses.”
The study was authored by Oxford University senior associate tutor in epidemiology Dr. Tom Jefferson and 11 other researchers, who identified “78 relevant studies” conducted “in low-, middle-, and high-income countries” during health emergencies, and assessed the effects of different types of masks, including surgical masks and N95/P2 respirators.
The researchers found surgical masks “may make little to no difference in how many people caught a flu-like illness/COVID-like illness,” while N95/P2 respirators “probably [made] little to no difference in how many people have confirmed flu … and may make little to no difference in how many people catch a flu-like illness … or respiratory illness.”
A 2022 study published in Cureus by Beny Spira, Ph.D., coordinator of the Bacterial Genetics Laboratory at Brazil’s University of São Paulo, analyzed mortality and morbidity rates in Europe during the winter of 2020-2021, finding that “countries with high levels of mask compliance did not perform better than those with low mask usage.”
Spira told The Defender “If you compare the Nordics with southern Europe … the difference in mask wearing was gigantic,” he said. Sweden, which did not mandate masks, had lower levels of excess deaths compared to countries with mask mandates.
Notably, in 2020, Swedish state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said, “We see no point in wearing a face mask in Sweden, not even on public transport,” adding there were “at least three heavyweight reports … which all state that the scientific evidence is weak.”
As of April 2022, Sweden had recorded fewer COVID-19-related deaths per million people than the U.S. — and 53 other countries. A Swedish government commission that investigated the country’s COVID-19 response found the no-lockdown strategy was “fundamentally correct,” and that, at most, masks should have been “recommended.”
Spira said masks “certainly will not help, because the best available studies … randomly controlled trials, have time after time shown that masks do not work. They do not prevent the spread of respiratory viruses.”
Spira has completed an updated study confirming his initial findings, but “most journals don’t accept this material,” he said.
Mask mandates pose ‘particular risk to children’
A September 2022 study published in Environmental Research concluded that “Wearing of [surgical masks] raises CO2 content in inhaled air quickly to a very high level in healthy children … that might be hazardous to children’s health.”
The study’s lead author, Harald Walach, Ph.D., founder of the Change Health Science Institute in Germany and professional research fellow at Kazimieras Simonavicius University in Lithuania, told The Defender “We have been highly critical of mask mandates, and our study vindicated our original skepticism.”
“Masks do not appear to have changed the infection dynamics,” Walach said. “A lot of the problems are really home-made, as the vaccination campaigns might have led both to the emergence of more dangerous strains of the virus and immunologically compromised individuals that are much more susceptible.”
“For instance, if one looks at deaths and mortality data during 2020, with no vaccines present, one sees that the mortality rates were much lower — at least in Germany,” Walach said. “After the vaccination campaign started, death tolls rose. At the very least, this shows that the vaccination campaign did not do what it was meant to do: to prevent excess mortality. It rather exacerbated mortality.”
Harvey Risch, M.D., Ph.D., professor emeritus and senior research scientist in epidemiology (chronic diseases) at the Yale School of Public Health, told The Defender: “There is no evidence that wearing masks contributes appreciably to source control of respiratory virus infections. This has been shown in all of the studies of source control.”
Cardiologist Dr. Peter McCullough told The Defender that while the Cochrane analysis “found that masks are ineffective … 17 studies, including three large randomized trials, have demonstrated that viricidal nasal sprays and gargles (iodine, xylitol) are very effective in reducing the spread of the virus,” suggesting their use be encouraged.
For Dr. David Bell, a public health physician, biotech consultant and former director of Global Health Technologies at Intellectual Ventures Global Good Fund, mask mandates pose a particular risk to children.
“What we can be confident of is that it will harm child development,” Bell said. “We can also be confident, from the common practice of wearing masks for photo sessions and then removing them to talk, that our political leaders know full well that the practice is essentially pointless from a health standpoint,” he said.
‘A test to see if people will still comply with obvious foolishness’
Results of a recent survey indicate that the majority of Americans are not highly concerned about COVID-19 and are not rushing to mask up.
According to the Axios/Ipsos American Health Index Poll conducted Aug. 11-14, “The percentage of people who wear a mask some or all of the time has dropped by half over the past six months, to 15%,” while 69% said “contracting COVID poses [a] small or no risk to their health and well-being.”
Only 2% of respondents said COVID-19 was the greatest threat to public health in the U.S., compared to opioids/fentanyl at 26%, obesity at 23% and guns/firearms at 20%.
Several experts who spoke with The Defender said politics — not science or health — drives policymakers’ decisions.
“We seemed to have moved well beyond evidence-based medicine,” Bell said. “This appears to be about politics, and showing you are following one side and so not associated with the other,” Bell said. “The alternative is viewed as ‘far right’ or something similar. The irony is that this is really about imposing totalitarian or fascist dictates.”
Beny said he did not know why talk about reimplementing mask mandates has returned but said it “may be for political reasons. Not for scientific reasons, that’s for sure.”
For Walach, “this shows how little ‘rational’ or ‘evidence-based’ these supposedly most rational of our institutions have become. One might ask, whether they are caving in to political pressure, either from sponsors or from political parties, or both,” he said.
Walach added that in countries like Germany, Switzerland and Austria, masks still “do not seem to be a public topic,” while “lockdowns are out of the question.”
Others said authorities may be testing public willingness to abide by new measures.
“It is obvious that there is a concerted effort to ramp up the fear and once again impose upon the public,” Flores said. “The media are sending out trial balloons. They always tip their hand. There will be a dramatic increase in mandates by authority figures of every stripe across the board.”
Bell described recent developments as “a test to see if people will still comply with obvious foolishness.”
“A decision to go ahead may depend on perceptions of whether such compliance will still happen or not,” he said. “Let’s hope, for humanity’s sake, that most people can see more clearly now.”