Health

NYT Columnist Admits That Mask Mandates Haven’t Worked

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
Font Size:

With calls for mask mandates to return beginning to sprout in some circles, the New York Times’ David Leonhardt broke down the evidence Tuesday and concluded that the policy has a negligible impact on COVID-19 caseloads.

COVID-19 deaths have ticked up slightly in recent weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and cases crossed an average of 100,000 per day in mid-May for the first time since February. These trends have prompted some isolated localities to reimplement mask mandates, and some big-city leaders like New York Mayor Eric Adams are facing pressures to follow.

“The evidence suggests that broad mask mandates have not done much to reduce Covid caseloads over the past two years,” Leonhardt writes in the NYT. “Today, mask rules may do even less than in the past, given the contagiousness of current versions of the virus. And successful public health campaigns rarely involve a divisive fight over a measure unlikely to make a big difference.”

Leonhardt points out that there hasn’t been a significantly different outcome regarding COVID-19 in places with stringent mask policies versus those without. Tufts University epidemiologist Shira Doron adds that “It is simultaneously true that masks work and mask mandates do not work.”

The article then goes on to explain the obvious: with a virus as contagious as COVID-19, anything less than 100% compliance renders a mask mandate practically useless. Allowing customers to dine in restaurants without a mask despite making them wear one to be seated, allowing airline passengers to take a mask down to sip a drink mid-flight and having people wear masks incorrectly even for short periods of time result in the virus spreading regardless of the compliance of everyone else.

University of Minnesota researchers determined that at least a quarter of Americans consistently wear their mask below their nose, according to the NYT. Furthermore, with the dominance of Omicron, the basic cloth masks worn by millions of people do little to stop the virus, forcing everyone to upgrade to masks like N95’s if a mandate were going to be effective. (RELATED: The CDC Has A New Boogeyman To Keep COVID Restrictions Around Even Longer)

Leonhardt finally acknowledges that turning mandates on and off as cases and deaths rise and fall isn’t going to work. “But this approach is not sustainable for years on end. Masks hinder communication, fog glasses and can be uncomfortable. There is a reason that children and airline passengers have broken out in applause when told they can take off their masks.”

Polling indicates that the American public have long since moved on from widespread support of mandates, but much of the media class still advocates for COVID-19 restrictions when caseloads surge.