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September 29, 2020

The Tragedy of Protecting the Vulnerable With A Placebo

(Part 3 of Face Masks: A Placebo with Harmful Side Effects)

(This is the third article in a series exploring the science, psychology, and unintended consequences of COVID-19 face masks.)

Part 3 - The Tragedy of Protecting the Vulnerable With A Placebo

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In part 1 of this article series I explained why our health authorities turned their backs on decades of medical evidence when they wrongly assumed that face masks are capable of reducing the spread of respiratory viruses. In part 2 I discussed the basic physics of why the large droplets produced by coughing and sneezing don't meaningfully contribute to spreading the virus while the aerosols that are responsible for spreading the virus are too small to be filtered by masks. 

In this article I will explain how our misplaced faith in masks (and air filtration in general) is dramatically increasing the risk of death among our most vulnerable citizens in long-term care homes. The mistaken focus on air filtration prevented health authorities from implementing other effective measures and led to dangerous policies that put many of our most vulnerable citizens in harm's way by locking them in contaminated air spaces with other infected COVID patients. 

As you probably already know, the COVID-19 virus disproportionately preys on elderly people with pre-existing health conditions. Patients in long-term care units are, by far, the most vulnerable since they are already in a compromised health condition with immune systems that have drastically declined as a result of illness and old age. Worldwide, approximately 50% of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred among long-term care patients. In Canada it's over 80%! In the United States, its over 40%, with some individual states also approaching Canadian levels (i.e. Pennsylvania 68%, Minnesota 78%, Ohio 69%, etc.). Face masks and our misguided focus on air filtration bear much of the responsibility for the tragedy that has occurred in these long-term care homes.

As I showed in part 1 and part 2 of this article series, strapping masks on patients and staff cannot protect anyone from a respiratory virus. When faced with an airborne respiratory virus, air filtration is merely a placebo. But that's what politicians and health authorities recommended for our long-term care homes, despite decades of research and pandemic guidelines to the contrary. And everyone felt safer because something had been done. Yet the deaths continued anyway.

By focusing on masks and air filtration to protect long-term care patients, authorities essentially turned these facilities into death traps. Once the virus gained entry, the virus could spread like wildfire because patients were effectively quarantined inside contaminated air spaces. Placebos are not harmless if false confidence in their effectiveness leaves patients exposed to danger and prevents patients from receiving other effective means of protection.

The only effective way to protect the vulnerable from a respiratory virus (other than giving them a prophylactic medicine to prevent the disease in the first place, but that's another political scandal for another day) is to reduce their exposure to virus-containing aerosols. That means aggressively ventilating their living quarters and getting patients out into the fresh air. Go outside, go for a walk in the park, rip open the windows, and turn the air exchange on high! And to lighten the burden on overworked care staff, carefully screened family members should have been recruited to help take their love ones outside into the sun.

But that's not what happened. Doors and windows were shut, masks were put on, family members were kept away, and staff members were overwhelmed as patients were locked inside their virus incubation cells, alone and devoid of contact from loved ones. The cruelty of this policy is immeasurable.

The filtration blunder didn't end with masks. A great deal of emphasis was placed on HEPA filters to clean the air. HEPA filters, like N95 masks, can only filter particles down to 0.3 microns. They work for bacteria, mold, pollens, dust, and other large particles. They are great for allergy sufferers. But as I explained in part 2, virus-carrying aerosols will go straight through any filter rated for 0.3 microns. They should have just opened the windows!!!

Vitamin D deficiency from lack of sunlight also may play a role in increasing vulnerability to COVID-19. And research has long shown that viruses do not survive long when they are exposed to UV light. But again, our health authorities' misplaced focus was on quarantine measures, masks, and air filtration. Patients locked inside indoor air spaces full of virus-bearing aerosols, far from the sun and with their face masks on, were effectively prevented from getting exposure to direct sunlight and the vitamin D boost that comes with it. Had they simply been allowed outside, even for a few hours each day, this may have reduced their vulnerability to the disease and increased the survival rate among those who got infected.

In many jurisdictions around the world, including New York City, health authorities and politicians even began transferring patients infected with COVID-19 from hospitals to long-term care homes in order to free up hospital beds in preparation for a surge in cases. They assumed face masks and HEPA filters would allow them to isolate wards despite all the available research that demonstrates that air filtration cannot stop a respiratory virus. The examples of the COVID-19 virus spreading through the ventilation systems of cruise ships early in the pandemic should have been a tragic warning to those imposing this reckless policy, but it was done anyway. Predictably, the virus quickly spread from infected to uninfected wards. Transferring already infected COVID-19 patients from hospitals into long-term care homes, where the virus immediately found a large vulnerable population to prey upon, was a death sentence for thousands of care home residents.

If you design policies on gut instinct while ignoring everything the medical community has learned about respiratory viruses, you're not going to pick the right tool for the job. And don't give me that tired byline, "we didn't know, it's a novel virus." It's not a new virus, only a new strain of a well-known family of coronaviruses, of which there are hundreds, and of which six (now seven) affect humans as respiratory viral infections. Despite slight differences in contagiousness, symptoms, lethality, and vulnerability by age group, all respiratory coronaviruses are broadly similar in size and mode of transmission. As are all other respiratory viruses, like influenza, rhinovirus, enterovirus, parainfluenza, and so on. So, it's a mystery why health officials and the media expected this strain of coronavirus to behave differently. 

The default protocol when faced with a new strain is to assume it will be transmitted like all other similar respiratory viruses, not to assume, without evidence, that this will be the one and only exception to the rule - the one and only respiratory virus in history capable of being stopped by a face mask or HEPA filter. This is reckless medical mismanagement on an epic scale. This is more than just a firing offense. This is criminal negligence.

A placebo is also not harmless if the placebo itself contributes to the spread of panic, which causes the public (and policymakers) to start acting irrationally. In part 4, I will explain how masks are contributing to the cycle of self-reinforcing fear that is causing us to impose extremely destructive health measures that are wholly out of proportion to the risk.

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Part 3 - The Tragedy of Protecting the Vulnerable With A Placebo


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1 comment:

  1. I found your article after I wrote a short one about our masks can be a placebo. Thank you for all of your investigations into the wearing of a mask !!


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