Former CDC director criticizes new study that raises doubt about wearing masks

A former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lambasted a study from Denmark released on Wednesday that concluded that surgical masks do not protect against the coronavirus.

In an editorial piece responding directly to the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (AIM), former CDC director Thomas Frieden wrote, “Although no single strategy can control the pandemic, widespread masking in the community can mitigate spread as part of a comprehensive approach.” 

“An N95 mask is better than a surgical mask. A surgical mask is better than most cloth masks. A cloth mask is better than nothing,” Frieden said. 

The study, published in the AIM, was noted by critics to have several issues, namely that the study heavily relied on patient-reported home tests during a period when infection rates were low in Denmark and other mitigation measures had already been put in place.

The test subjects were divided into two groups, with one group asked to wear masks while the other was asked to go without. Of the 4,862 that completed the study, 42 mask-wearers and 53 who didn’t wear a mask contracted the coronavirus in each group.

Those infected represented 1.8 percent of mask wearers and 2.1 percent of the control group, with the results deemed not statistically significant.

The University of Copenhagen researchers who conducted the study found that the results were “inconclusive,” but later noted that wearing masks did not appear to reduce infection rates. 

Conclusions of the Danish study go against mounting evidence from other studies that wearing a mask is one of the best ways to reduce infections, according to The New York Times

A report from the CDC released last week found that not only does mask wearing protect the general public from transmission, it also protects the mask wearer. 

In September, CDC Director Robert Redfield told senators that wearing a mask was guaranteed to offer at least some protection for all wearers. 

“We have clear scientific evidence they work, I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine, because the immunogenicity may be 70 percent and if I don’t get an immune response, the vaccine’s not going to protect me, this face mask will,” Redfield said.

On Monday, NIH director Francis Collins called masks a “lifesaving medical instrument” and not “an invasion of your personal freedom.” He stressed the need to remember the three W’s, “wear your mask, watch your distance and wash your hands.”

Tags CDC Denmark mask mandates Masks

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