UCLA Professor: ‘Authorities Have Oversold’ Masks as Preventive Measure for Coronavirus

A man wears a face mask on Halloween night in Greenwich Villag, Manhattan, New York City o

In an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, UCLA Geffen School of Medicine Professor Dr. Joseph Ladapo made the case that health and political authorities have “oversold” use of masks as a means to prevent spread of the Chinese coronavirus.

“Health officials and political leaders have assigned mask mandates a gravity unsupported by empirical research,” Ladapo asserted.

The UCLA associate professor observed mask-wearing and mask “mandates” have ended up as a distraction from the realities of the pandemic, one of which is that “viruses inevitably spread.”

The public, he stated, actually assumes that scientific research supports mask mandates.

Looking at the actual scientific evidence, however, Ladapo noted Emerging Infectious Diseases reported in May that most completed randomized trials of community or household masking have shown use of a mask “has little or no effect on respiratory virus transmission” of influenza:

Although mechanistic studies support the potential effect of hand hygiene or face masks, evidence from 14 randomized controlled trials of these measures did not support a substantial effect on transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza.


We did not find evidence that surgical-type face masks are effective in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza transmission, either when worn by infected persons (source control) or by persons in the general community to reduce their susceptibility. However, as with hand hygiene, face masks might be able to reduce the transmission of other infections and therefore have value in an influenza pandemic when healthcare resources are stretched.

Ladapo observed that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told 60 Minutes in March that “wearing a mask might make people feel a little bit better,” but “it’s not providing the perfect protection that people think it is,” and, in fact, he said masks may have “unintended consequences,” as a result of people “touching their face” more often to adjust the mask.

At the time, Fauci’s advice reflected scientific consensus on masks and was even consistent with guidance from the World Health Organization.

But, Ladapo noted that, almost immediately, the recommendations changed due to risk of “asymptomatic transmission.”

“The risk of  Health officials said mask mandates were now not only reasonable but critical,” he wrote. “This is a weak rationale, given that presymptomatic spread of respiratory viruses isn’t a novel phenomenon in public health.”

He pointed to policy makers using “low-quality evidence” to support use of masks, such as studies of virus outbreaks related to Missouri hairstylists and a Georgia summer camp, as well as videos of droplets spreading through the air as people talk.

Ladapo said the “highest-quality evidence” in support of mask use, thus far, was published in June in Health Affairs, in a study that found a two percent reduction in growth rates of coronavirus infection in U.S. states with mask mandates compared with those without the mandates.

“Because respiratory virus spread is exponential, modest reductions can translate into large differences over time,” Ladapo said. “But these shifts in trajectory are distinct from the notion that mandating masks will bring the pandemic to an end. Based on evidence around the world, it should be clear that mask mandates won’t extinguish the virus.”

He summarized:

The most reasonable conclusion from the available scientific evidence is that community mask mandates have—at most—a small effect on the course of the pandemic. But you wouldn’t know that from watching cable news or sitting next to a mother being forced off an airplane because her small children aren’t able to keep a mask on.

Instead, Ladapo urged a shift away from mask mandate talk and toward what scientists already know about respiratory viral spread. Such a move, he said, will help focus resources on the protection of Americans who are most vulnerable to becoming very ill.

He observed “strong evidence” that effective treatments already exist for patients in outpatient settings, but are “underused.” Ladapo noted that while it is essential to identify treatments for those hospitalized with the COVID-19 infection, it is equally as important to prevent illness before hospitalization is necessary.

“Until the reality of viral spread in the U.S.—with or without mask mandates—is accepted, political leaders will continue to feel justified in keeping schools and businesses closed, robbing young people of the opportunity to invest in their futures, and restricting activities that make life worthwhile,” Ladapo concluded.

In October, dozens of medical experts, epidemiologists, and biologists gathered to createwhat is called the Great Barrington Declaration, a statement that has now been signed by nearly 604,000 “concerned citizens,” nearly 11,700 medical and public health scientists, and over 33,000 medical practitioners.

“We have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies, and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection,” the internationally known public health experts asserted, adding some specific concerns:

The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice.

The experts noted waiting to resume normal life until a vaccine is approved and readily available will cause “irreparable damage,” and they provided the public with a list of what they already know about the infection caused by the coronavirus:

We know that vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young. Indeed, for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza.

As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls. We know that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity – i.e.  the point at which the rate of new infections is stable – and that this can be assisted by (but is not dependent upon) a vaccine. Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity.

The scientists and medical professionals concluded the most “compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity” is to encourage all those with minimal risk of death to “live their lives normally” as they develop immunity, and focus protection strategies on those at highest risk.


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