In the year of COVID-19, many things that are really scientific questions have become absurdly politicized. There’s hydroxychloroquine, which as an anti-malarial drug really shouldn’t be the topic of much political conversation, but somehow is. There’s herd immunity, which has gone from a fairly niche epidemiological concept mostly discussed by experts to one of the most political topics in the world.
And, of course, there’s masks, which have somehow become arguably the key political battle in the COVID-19 war.
This is very strange, because ultimately wearing a mask is arguably the easiest way to reduce your risk of COVID-19 infection. While the benefits of mask mandates — especially those that only target public, open areas — are perhaps more debatable, at an individual level the idea that a mask should be an extreme political choice is really just bizarre.
And now a new study has dropped into this tumultuous dialogue. Danish researchers have published the first large, randomized trial of mask wearing that apparently shows that masks don’t work for COVID-19. Denialists everywhere are celebrating, which is again very odd because masks are arguably the only intervention against COVID-19 that doesn’t require restrictive rules and business shutdowns.
Unfortunately for the denialists, of course, this study doesn’t say anything of the sort. They didn’t find any benefit for masks, but that doesn’t mean that we can say that masks don’t work.
Confused? Let me explain.
The study in question was called DANMASK-19, and was a fairly simple randomized-controlled trial in Denmark looking at whether giving people masks and telling them to wear the masks could prevent COVID-19 in those people, on top of lockdowns and other social distancing measures. They found that, after one month, there was no statistically significant difference between the mask and non-mask group in the study.