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FactCheck: This Irish video about masks is incorrect to claim they do not work against Covid-19

A video viewed thousands of times on an Irish Facebook page contains incorrect information about the effectiveness of masks.

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A CLAIM SHARED in a video that has been viewed more than 16,000 times incorrectly suggests that masks are not effective against Covid-19.

In a video posted to an Irish Facebook page, a “former secondary school teacher” says that there is “so much information out there to prove that [masks] do not stop viruses”. 

The speaker in the video uses the claim to argue against any requirement for students to wear a mask in schools.

However, the assertion is incorrect. Peer-reviewed studies overwhelmingly conclude that masks are a useful tool to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The video has been viewed more than 16,000 times since it was posted on 2 November and received over 1,000 reactions and 168 comments, but shares inaccurate information about masks.

surgical-face-masks-with-elasticated-ear-loops Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Masks can block transmission of Covid-19 in two ways.

Firstly, they can block particles that a person exhales which could contain the virus, and secondly, masks can reduce the risk posed to a person breathing in by filtering droplets and particles from outside their mask.  

Masks are being worn in countries around the world as part of measures to fight Covid-19 and are recommended by international health organisations because there is a wide body of evidence to support their use.

The National Academy of Sciences in the US published a review of evidence for using face masks against Covid-19 in January that found masks are an effective tool to reduce community transmission.

It looked at a wide range of studies to consider evidence on the efficacy of wearing masks in public; the impact of mask requirements; whether an infectious person can lower the number of people they infect by wearing a mask; and whether a person’s risk of becoming infected can be reduced by mask-wearing.

“The available evidence suggests that near-universal adoption of non-medical masks when out in public, in combination with complementary public health measures, could successfully reduce R [the effective reproduction number] to below 1, thereby reducing community spread if such measures are sustained,” the study said.

“When used in conjunction with widespread testing, contact tracing, quarantining of anyone that may be infected, hand-washing, and physical distancing, face masks are a valuable tool to reduce community transmission.”

In Bangladesh, a large study by scientists from Yale University, Stanford, John Hopkins, North South University in Dhaka and other institutions between November 2020 and April 2021 concluded that masks can be used to reduce Covid-19 cases.

The research involved 600 villages and tested whether distributing masks and information about how to use them to communities impacted the number of infections.

It found “clear evidence” that the measure reduced the presence of Covid-19 symptoms that were recorded in the areas.

Additionally, “while critics of mask mandates suggest that individuals who wear masks are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, we found no evidence of risk compensation as a result of increased mask-wearing”, the study said.

“In fact, we found that our intervention slightly increased the likelihood of physical distancing, presumably because individuals participating in the intervention took the threat of Covid-19 more seriously.” 

And health journal The Lancet published a paper this year which used a survey that collected responses from 378,000 people in the US and found that mask-wearing, along with physical distancing, increases the probability of controlling Covid-19 transmission.

In addition to the body of science that concludes that masks are effective at helping to prevent the virus spreading, it is untrue to claim that there is an abundance of evidence that masks do not work.

During the pandemic, some scientific publications have been either accidentally misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented, leading members of the public to share incorrect information.

For example, in the US, a senator recently claimed during an interview on Fox News that a study in Denmark showed that masks didn’t work.

However, that was not what the study showed, the Washington Post verified. The research found a test group of people wearing masks were less likely to catch the virus than an unmasked group, but said there wasn’t enough evidence in that particular study to reach a statistically significant conclusion.

Mask-wearing in Ireland

The current regulations in Ireland legally require that people wear a face covering on public transport; in shops, shopping centres and other indoor settings like cinemas or salons; and in banks, post offices and credit unions.

The HSE advises the public to wear a mask in healthcare settings, crowded environments, and when visiting someone at high risk from Covid-19.

Children aged nine and over must wear a mask on public transport, in shops and other public indoor areas. At any age, a child may be asked to wear a face mask if they are attending a hospital clinic or GP surgery.

In schools, pupils in third class and above are required to wear them in school and on school transport, as well as all secondary school students.

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The World Health Organization explains that masks alone are not enough to stop Covid-19, but that in combination with other precautions like distancing, ventilation, avoiding crowds and hash-washing, they are an important measure towards stopping the virus from spreading.

“Masks are a key measure to reduce transmission and save lives,” the WHO explains.

“Wearing well-fitted masks should be used as part of a comprehensive ‘Do it all!’ approach including maintaining physical distancing, avoiding crowded, closed and close-contact settings, ensuring good ventilation of indoor spaces, cleaning hands regularly, and covering sneezes and coughs with a tissue of bent elbow.”

Additionally, as well as being effective, masks have been proven to be safe to use.

Health agencies and suppliers have provided extensive guidelines to the public on how to use masks properly. 

When worn correctly, masks do not reduce a person’s oxygen levels; they do not increase children’s carbon dioxide intake; they are not conducive to dangerous germs; they do not cause infections like Legionnaires’ disease or pleurisy.

Those are all false claims that have been made about face coverings during the pandemic which usually originate from individuals or groups that oppose all Covid-19 restrictions, including mask-wearing, but which have been proven to be untrue. 

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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