Jeremy Hammond’s CORRECTIVE vis-a-vis that CDC mask study

The excellent Jeremy Hammond has put out a corrective to a report by (the excellent) Ben Swann, on the CDC study re: mask-wearing among COVID “cases.” Since I shared a version of that story, I offer this as a corrective to my post, and an invitation to weigh in (as several NFU subscribers did).

(This piece of Hammond’s was just posted on Facebook by Colleen Rowley; I tried to find the original on Hammond’s website but could not. So this is all I have.)

The takeaway here is that what the study really proves, or reconfirms, is that mask-wearing makes no difference, as people who’d worn masks and those who hadn’t worn them “caught COVID-19” (i.e., tested positive) in the same numbers. It does not prove, Hammond argues, that those who wore them were likelier to “catch it.” 

So let’s discuss it further, if you are so inclined.

I admire journalist Ben Swann and appreciate what he’s doing to combat mainstream propaganda narratives and censorship, but a recent report of his unfortunately legitimized certain criticisms of his reporting on masks.

On October 13, he published a video titled “New CDC Study 70% Always 3% Never Wore Face Masks Contracted Covid”. I’ve seen it being spread around on social media so feel compelled to alert my own readers that this video misreports the study findings and therefore, regrettably, doesn’t help our cause.

Swann says that the CDC study shows that masks not only do not help prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission but may increase the risk. He says the study shows “that’s exactly what happened”. He describes it as finding that those who rarely or never wore a mask had a much lower percentage of infection from COVID-19 than those who often or always wore a mask.

He shows this table from the study: (see below)

He interprets this as meaning that only 3.9% and 3.1% of case and control patients who never wore a mask, respectively, contracted COVID-19. Based on that interpretation, he suggests the numbers mean that those who never wore a mask were very unlikely to get  COVID-19. He says that of the 312 participants in the study, 70% who always wore a face mask wound up with COVID-19 within 14 days after exposure, whereas those who never w re a mask accounted for less than 4% of the COVID-19 cases.

He concludes that the smaller numbers of people with COVID-19 who rarely or never wore masks indicates that wearing a mask can increase the risk of infection.

I was disappointed to see this report of Swann’s because it is completely wrong.

The 3.1% does not represent the proportion of people in the control cohort who contracted COVID-19. Nobody in the control cohort got COVID-19. The control group consisted of outpatients who tested negative for COVID-19. That was the whole purpose of the study: to compare factors associated with different testing outcomes among patients coming to the hospital with symptoms. The case cohort consisted of those who tested positive.

The numbers do not mean that people who never wore masks were highly unlikely to get COVID-19. The differences in mask use between those who did and did not test positive was not statistically significant.

So, what the numbers really mean is simply that there was no increased risk for COVID-19 associated with never wearing a mask. It is not the case that 70% of participants who always wore a face mask got COVID-19 within 14 days after exposure.

Rather, 70.6% of those who tested positive for COVID-19 and 74.2% of those who tested negative always wore a face mask when going out in the 14 days prior to symptom onset.

That is, mask wearers and non-mask-wearers had an approximately equal chance of testing positive for COVID-19.

Swann also focuses on the use of masks as personal protective equipment (PPE), but the findings of the study were also relevant for the use of masks as “source control”, meaning to protect other people from the wearer.

[This too is interesting:]

Another table that Swann doesn’t talk about showed that there was a statistically significant difference between test-positive and test-negative cohorts when it came to whether others around them were wearing masks at the time of exposure.

Those who tested negative for COVID-19 and visited a bar or restaurant in the 14 days before symptom onset were significantly more likely to have reported that the people around them at those establishments were wearing masks.

In other words, the use of masks by others at restaurants and bars was associated with a decreased chance of testing positive for COVID-19. It is possible — if not probable — that restaurants and bars full of mask wearers had characteristics that distinguished them from places where people weren’t wearing masks. People may have tended to wear masks more in the restaurants visited by later COVID-19 cases precisely because they were busier and more crowded places.

That is, this study does not show that a lack of mask use in restaurants and bars was causally associated with an increased risk of testing positive for COVID-19.

The findings are therefore compatible with a hypothesis that masks do nothing at all to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

Also, regardless of mask use, activities for which there was no increased risk included shopping, going to a salon, going to a gym, using public transportation, going to a bar or coffee shop, or going to church or other religious gathering.

So, that’s what you need to know about this study.

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