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Making face masks mandatory is not backed by science or law

Government policies are still based on the panic of March, rather than on the facts known in July.
John Carpay Calgary, AB

Some Canadian municipalities are passing laws that force all citizens to wear non-medical masks in indoor places open to the public, including (for example) shopping malls and houses of worship.

The people who brought us the harm-causing lockdowns are the same people now wanting to make mask-wearing compulsory. The curve is flat, and has been for months. COVID-19 deaths peaked in March or April (depending on which jurisdiction) and now continue to decline, even while increased testing exposes more "cases." If masks were not required to flatten the curve, why should they be required now?

Many leading doctors and public health officials from around the world support mandatory mask-wearing. But this does not mean that the science is settled.

One study states that cloth masks pose a 13 percent increased risk of influenza-like illness infection to those wearing them, noting that "moisture retention, reuse of cloth masks, and poor filtration may result in an increased risk of infection." This past April, the World Health Organization (WHO) also confirmed that masks "offer a false sense of security, leading to potentially less adherence to other preventive measures."

The same WHO document points to problems with self-contamination that can occur by touching and reusing contaminated masks, and potential breathing difficulties due to decreases in oxygen levels.

Health professionals observe rampant misuse of masks in the community. Contamination by the incorrect removal of masks is a persistent problem, even among trained medical personnel. England’s deputy chief medical officer, Dr. Jenny Harries notes that one "can actually trap the virus in the mask and start breathing it in" and that "people can adversely put themselves at more risk than less."

The New England Journal of Medicine explained recently that "wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection," and that masks "serve symbolic roles" as "talismans" that may help increase a "perceived sense of safety" and do more to reduce anxiety than to reduce the transmission of Covid-19. Likewise, Dr. Anthony Fauci, member of the U.S. White House’s coronavirus task force, recently said that masks are symbolic of being a responsible citizen rather than a dependable infection-control measure.

A WHO guideline from June 5, 2020 states: "At present, there is no direct evidence (from studies on COVID-19 and in healthy people in the community) on the effectiveness of universal masking of healthy people in the community to prevent infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19. … At the present time, the widespread use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not yet supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence and there are potential benefits and harms to consider."

Masks impair communication, harshly impacting vulnerable people with mental-health disorders and developmental disabilities; the deaf and hard of hearing; those with cognitive impairments; and children. Dangerous miscommunications can result when those who suffer from hearing loss are not able to hear someone who is wearing a mask. These risks are even greater in multicultural settings, where a person often needs to see the speaker’s mouth and face to fully understand what is being said.

Assuming for a moment that the spread of COVID-19 is actually reduced by forcing the public to wear non-medical masks, this still does not address the violation of personal autonomy and human dignity, which are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Faces are the glue that holds us together, giving us our identity. Recognizing a face is vital to our social lives. By seeing each other’s faces, we discern emotional expressions such as joy, fear or anger. As the Czech-and-French author Milan Kundera wrote in his 1988 book Immortality: "The serial number of a human specimen is the face, that accidental and unrepeatable combination of features."

The significance of the uncovered face was underscored not long ago by the heated debate over Quebec's law banning face-coverings. Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard argued: "We are just saying that for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face… We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. It's as simple as that."

Opponents of this Quebec law argue that living in a free society means being able to choose what to wear, and what not to wear. To cover or expose one's face is a profoundly personal choice that carries with it political, cultural, psychological and spiritual implications.

Few would disagree that an "open face" helps with communication, identification and safety. Antifa thugs and criminals wear masks for a reason.

The Charter requires politicians to justify laws that diminish the realm of personal choice. Even if mask-wearing really does reduce the spread of COVID, it’s necessary to distinguish the fearmongering of this past March from the facts we now know in July. In March, the politicians relied on claims by Dr. Neil Ferguson of Imperial College that COVID-19 would kill 510,000 people in the UK and 2.2 million Americans. We were told in March that COVID threatened everyone, including children and healthy adults.

Today we know that what politicians and chief medical officers said in March was not just false, but demonstrably false. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Chief Medical Officer Deena Hinshaw claimed that as many as 32,000 Albertans could die of COVID. As of July 23, the number was 176 (not 32,000) and 97 percent of deaths were amongst people over 60.

Today, government data tells us that COVID poses very little threat to children or youth. Like other viruses, it threatens elderly people with one or more serious health conditions. We now know that four fifths of COVID deaths occurred in nursing homes, amongst elderly people who were already very sick. As a cause of death, the impact of COVID on healthy adults under 60 has been negligible in comparison to so many other causes of death. Statistically speaking, healthy adults have more to fear from driving than they do of dying of COVID.

On a global scale, COVID deaths are a small fraction of the number of lives claimed by the Asian Flu (1957-58) and the Hong Kong Flu (1968-69). In Alberta and other jurisdictions, the average age of death from COVID is higher than the average life expectancy; COVID has little if any impact on life expectancy.

Yet government policies are still based on the panic of March, rather than on the facts known in July. The media continue to speak about COVID as though death is not a natural part of life, and as though no person has ever died (whether wholly or partly) from a virus. Government policy seems to be predicated on the notion that we can somehow make people live forever (or for a very long time) even when they are already very elderly and very sick.

What is "unprecedented" in 2020 is not COVID but a new social and political experiment of locking up an entire population of millions of healthy people, pushing many of them into unemployment, poverty, depression and loneliness, all of which significantly reduce overall health. This is completely different from quarantine: the ages-old practice of isolating the sick.

Another "unprecedented" feature of 2020 is politicians and chief medical officers who ignore settled medical opinion that the best way to vanquish a virus (and to protect the vulnerable from it) is to allow it to spread amongst people who are younger, stronger and healthier. Once "population immunity" ("herd immunity") is established, the virus cannot easily spread further, and therefore has far less chance of harming the vulnerable. If wearing a mask truly works to reduce the spread of a virus, then mask-wearing will hurt the vulnerable by delaying the acquisition of population immunity.

Settled medical opinion about herd immunity cannot simply be disregarded or dismissed. Those who believe that we can and should try to stop the spread of a virus amongst healthy and invulnerable people must prove and justify their novel approach.

Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

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