Mandating Masks in California. Yes or No?

June 22nd, 2020

According to the L.A Times on June 18th, “Gov. Gavin Newsom ……. ordered all Californians to wear face coverings while in public or high-risk settings, including when shopping, taking public transit or seeking medical care, after growing concerns that an increase in coronavirus cases has been caused by residents failing to voluntarily take that precaution.”

Some counties in California were taking an ambivalent attitude toward mandating face covering and, according to the Governor, too many people were not complying. The article continued, “Under state law, residents who violate the new requirement could be charged with a misdemeanor and potentially face a financial penalty, according to a representative for the Newsom administration. However, officials have shied away from enforcing other statewide coronavirus mandates with similar actions, choosing instead to encourage compliance and educate residents about the benefits of safeguards against spread of the virus.” Since the June 18th order, five sheriff departments say they won’t enforce it.

Comments: The evidence regarding the wearing of masks has been contradictory from the beginning, with conflicted evidence of its efficacy. The WHO itself has changed its tune on this issue, as have many governments, and now says that healthy people should wear masks when taking care of corona virus patients. At best it may stop a positive person spreading the virus, but a mask will have minimal impact at best on stopping a negative person becoming infected. Given the small size of the COVID19 virus, the types of masks being worn won’t keep them out. There has been ample evidence of the lack of efficacy of wearing masks but the decision to make mask wearing compulsory in certain locations or activities now has more to do with conformity, however contradictory.

California, with a population of about 33 million people has seen 5,518 deaths (June 22nd), or 140 deaths per million population. Over 3,000 of those deaths have been in L.A. County with a population of over 10 million. This is a higher percentage per capita population than the rest of the state (2,500 deaths in the remaining 23 million people). This may be because the percentage of elderly people in care homes is high in L.A County. Neighbouring Orange County with a population of 3.1 million people has only seen 269 deaths and San Bernadino County, a large county to the North East of L.A, with a population of 2.1 million people has only seen 233 deaths. Therefore, the deaths in LA are proportionately higher than surrounding counties.

Similar to most other analyses, over 50% of the deaths in L.A County have been in care homes, as this report in May reveals. Given all factors, it is likely to be similar or even higher now. Some reports from Canada showed that deaths in care homes could be as high as 80% of the total deaths. Therefore, the extraordinary drama that has unfolded in the USA, including California, a state roughly the size of the UK, Spain and France combined, with partial lockdowns, massive economic turmoil and ongoing social distancing strategies, including mask wearing, has been precipitated by 5,500 deaths, 3,000 of which are in one county. At least 1,500 of these were elderly people in care homes. Should the remainder of the state also have been closed is now the big question. Should masks be compulsory, since the evidence shows them to be largely ineffective? In an average flu season, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that deaths in the USA can vary from between 30,000 to 60,000 in a season. If we use 50,000 as a round number and given that California has a 1/10th of the total population of the country, one would expect 5,000 Californians to die of the flu each year, which is about the same as have died of COVID19 this year. There are some questions now about whether we will see extra flu deaths this year, or what is possibly more likely is that many of the same people who died of COVID19 would have died from complications flowing a bout of flu.

It is also possible that some people already exposed to COVID19 may have some immunity to the season’s flu virus, even if though it will not be another corona virus. There is still much we don’t know, but what we do know is that masks will do very little to stop the virus spreading and should be limited to those who are sick or in close proximity to the vulnerable.