Some experts Friday slammed public-health officials in Los Angeles County for saying the county will likely reinstitute a local indoor-mask mandate thanks to COVID.
“Three years in, there is little evidence that mask mandates have had a significant impact on [COVID] case rates,” said Dr. Margery Smelkinson, an infectious-disease scientist who specializes in influenza and COVID-19, to The Post on Friday. “Considering this unimpressive track record, it is perplexing that many health officials are willing to return to mask mandates.”
At a press conference Thursday, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced that the county was creeping toward “high” viral activity with an average of more than 2,700 new COVID infections per day — and that residents could face an indoor-mask mandate as soon as next week.
“There is this common line of thinking that the pandemic is over and COVID is no longer of concern, but these numbers clearly demonstrate that COVID is still with us,” Ferrer warned.
But Dr. Smelkinson said she continues to be worried about the impact of such mandatory masking.
“Masks make it difficult for children to learn to speak properly and for the deaf and hard-of-hearing to fully participate in society,” she noted.
“Most Americans have already learned to live with the virus, and pandemic fatigue will ensure low compliance and a further erosion of confidence in public health officials. I fear that this, in turn, will lead to a strong reluctance to comply in future public health emergencies,” she said.
Palos Verdes-based lawyer and local school official Julie Hamill told The Post that the Los Angeles Department of Public Health had “lost the public’s trust a long time ago.”
Hamill, who was recently elected to the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, is representing a group of parents in a lawsuit against any county masking order. Called the Alliance of Los Angeles County Parents, the group calls for “removal of all unnecessary, harmful, and unjustified restrictions against children.
“[Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer] continues to ignore current scientific realities,” Hamill wrote.
“We know there is an extremely low mortality rate associated with COVID, especially for children. We know that there are no randomized controlled trial studies with statistically significant data to support masking as a way to prevent transmission of respiratory viruses. In fact, hundreds of years of scientific data show that masking does not prevent spread of respiratory viruses,” Hamill said.
Still, there are several studies indicating that masks are effective at preventing respiratory illness. One research document published in February 2022 by the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicated that consistent use of a cloth face mask or N95 respirator was associated with lower odds of testing positive for COVID-19.
Another lab study published in the journal Aerosol Science and Technology in November 2020 demonstrated that cloth masks blocked 51% of respiratory droplets from coughing, while N95 respirators blocked 99%.
But Dr. Marc Siegel, a clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health and Fox News medical analyst, shared Dr. Smelkinson’s skeptical position on mandates.
“[Masks] are political weapons, not medical tools,” he said. “I’m pro-mask, but I’m anti-mandate.”
Dr. Siegel endorsed wearing “a fit-tested N95 mask” in a hospital setting but said that overall mask effectiveness hinged on the wearer.
“I was monitoring the streets [during mandates], and I don’t think I ever saw anyone wearing [their mask] properly,” he said. “[Mask effectiveness] depends on the person knowing what they are doing.”
Mask mandates, he argued, are simply demonstrations of compliance, not public safety.
“As soon as they take the mandates off, everyone takes the masks off!” he pointed out. “Where’s the public health in that? It’s just a matter of obedience.
As with Dr. Smelkinson, Dr. Siegel also expressed concerns about the unseen cost of forced masking, including “socialization problems, kids with learning.”
“[A mandate] is not going to work,” he concluded. “It’s a bad precedent, and it shouldn’t be done.”
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