Evidence

Stay-at-Home Lockdowns Made No Difference to Covid Deaths in U.S. States – Study

A new study from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago has analysed the impact of stay-at-home orders on infections and deaths in U.S. states and found they made no difference.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the scientific journal PNAS, found stay-at-home orders (also known as shelter-in-place orders or SIPs) were not associated with lower infections or deaths; furthermore, they were actually associated with a slight increase in infections and deaths, although this was not statistically significant. The results are summarised in the charts below, where dots above the dashed line indicate an increase and dots below a decrease. Red dots are statistically significant results.

The authors suggest that stay-at-home orders have no impact on infections or deaths because they have little to no impact on mobility. Isolating the impact of stay-at-home orders from existing mobility trends, they estimate that the orders themselves contributed a reduction in mobility of just 0.7% compared to pre-pandemic levels. This is largely, they say, because people were already reducing their mobility as much as they were able or willing to.

The mobility data (from mobile phone movement) for U.S. states, with the date of the stay-at-home order shown as a dashed line ands its removal as a dotted line, are shown below.

Government Evidence on Masks is Weak and a Mess

Matthew Sweet has written in UnHerd about the importance of following footnotes in studies to find out if the references actually say what the studies claim they say and genuinely back up the argument being made. He suggests this indicates whether or not the study should be considered reliable.

One of his examples is the mask study by Dr Baruch Vainshelboim, now retracted, that I wrote about yesterday. He says a number of the footnotes are misrepresented (this criticism was part of the retraction notice).

If Dr Vainshelboim did misrepresent the papers he cites he would not be the first. As noted yesterday, a recent peer-reviewed study in PNAS claimed surgical masks filter out 95-99% of aerosol droplets. Yet the two papers it cites to back up this claim say nothing of the sort. One concludes: “None of these surgical masks exhibited adequate filter performance and facial fit characteristics to be considered respiratory protection devices.” This is not to defend Dr Vainshelboim’s misrepresentation of course, but to highlight the double standards applied to those who challenge political orthodoxies.

Today I thought I would follow Matthew Sweet’s advice for the Government’s own evidence. We learned yesterday that face masks may continue after June 21st, with no indication of when the mandate may be lifted or what conditions may trigger it. What scientific evidence is this seemingly permanent coercive public health measure based on? After all, the real world evidence for masks preventing outbreaks is feeble, to say the least, as Yinon Weiss has dramatically illustrated.

The Government has often been slow to publish evidence for its supposedly scientifically based interventions. But in January its scientific advisory group SAGE published a paper in which it set out its current evidence on masks. This included an important admission that masks give no real protection to the wearer, saying: “They may provide a small amount of protection to an uninfected wearer; however, this is not their primary intended purpose (medium confidence).” They say they are “predominantly a source control”.

Face coverings worn in public, community and workplace settings are predominantly a source control, designed to reduce the emission of virus carrying particles from the mouth and nose of an infected person. This may have measurable benefits in reducing population level transmission when worn widely, through reducing the potential for asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people spreading the virus without their knowledge. Analysis of regional level data in several countries suggest this impact is typically around 6-15% (Cowling and Leung, 2020, Public Health England 2021) but could be as high as 45% (Mitze et al., 2020).

This is the key paragraph in terms of providing evidence for the effectiveness of face masks, and on closer inspection it is a mess. It says: “Analysis of regional level data in several countries suggest this impact is typically around 6-15%.” Yet the 6-15% figure comes from the Cowling and Leung paper, which is not an analysis of regional level data but an editorial article drawing on a December 2020 review paper by Brainard et al. The Brainard paper reviews 33 studies including 12 randomised controlled trials (RCTs), but none of these is an analysis of regional level data.

The Mitze paper actually is an analysis of regional level data, but only in Germany not in several countries. It was submitted in July 2020 and is based on data from the decline of the spring wave. As infections were falling then anyway it is very hard to distinguish the possible effect of masks from natural decline. In any case, the mask mandate in Germany did not prevent the winter surge, as the graph above depicts.

Journal Retracts Study Showing Masks Don’t Work Claiming Science “Clearly Shows” Masks Work, But Fails to Cite Any Evidence

The peer-reviewed study “Facemasks in the COVID-19 era: A health hypothesis” by Dr Baruch Vainshelboim has been retracted by the journal Medical Hypotheses on the instruction of the Editor-in-Chief.

The study argues that neither medical nor non-medical facemasks are effective in blocking transmission of viral and infectious disease such as SARS-CoV-2, and that in the long run they are likely to damage individual health.

The retraction notice reads:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief.

Medical Hypotheses serves as a forum for innovative and often disruptive ideas in medicine and related biomedical sciences. However, our strict editorial policy is that we do not publish misleading or inaccurate citations to advance any hypotheses.

The Editorial Committee concluded that the author’s hypothesis is misleading on the following basis:

1. A broader review of existing scientific evidence clearly shows that approved masks with correct certification, and worn in compliance with guidelines, are an effective prevention of COVID-19 transmission.

2. The manuscript misquotes and selectively cites published papers. References #16, 17, 25 and 26 are all misquoted.

3. Table 1. Physiological and Psychological Effects of Wearing Facemask and Their Potential Health Consequences, generated by the author. All data in the table is unverified, and there are several speculative statements.

4. The author submitted that he is currently affiliated to Stanford University, and VA Palo Alto Health Care System. However, both institutions have confirmed that Dr Vainshelboim ended his connection with them in 2016.

A subsequent internal investigation by the Editor-in-Chief and the Publisher have determined that this article was externally peer reviewed but not with our customary standards of rigour prior to publication. The journal has re-designed its editorial and review workflow to ensure that this will not happen again in future.

If there are errors in the paper, the question is why these were not picked up and addressed with the author prior to publication in the usual manner. If some were missed and subsequently came to light, the journal could have asked for revisions to the paper to address the criticisms. That it chose to retract it completely suggests the move is political (though the allegations of dishonesty in affiliations may have played a part). There is no indication in the notice of any correspondence with the author in the matter.

The strangest criticism is the first: “A broader review of existing scientific evidence clearly shows that approved masks with correct certification, and worn in compliance with guidelines, are an effective prevention of COVID-19 transmission.” This is just a restatement, without references, of mask orthodoxy. Given that Dr Vainshelboim had provided a wide range of references in his review of the evidence, a rebuttal should surely have come in the form of a similar rigorous academic exercise, marshalling further evidence, not a bald 28-word sentence about what the evidence “clearly shows”. This is not the way robust academic research happens or science advances. The editors could have published a response, or another study drawing on further evidence that comes to a different conclusion. That they instead retract the article on account of criticisms from unnamed correspondents, drawing on unspecified evidence, is a disgraceful way to treat peer-reviewed scientific research and the scientists who produce it.

What exactly is this uncited evidence that “clearly shows” masks reduce transmission? Certainly not the only randomised controlled trial, Danmask-19, which found no significant protection for the wearers of surgical masks. And certainly not the real-world evidence comparing countries or states with mask mandates to those without.

Why Lockdowns Don’t Work: Less Than Half of People With Symptoms Self-Isolate, Major Survey Shows

On Lockdown Sceptics we have highlighted before the reasons that restrictions don’t have the expected effect of suppressing COVID-19. Partly it’s because lockdowns don’t prevent spread in hospitals, care homes and private homes, where much of the transmission happens, especially that which leads to serious disease. And partly it’s because people who are infectious and symptomatic fail to self-isolate, perhaps because they cannot, or cannot afford to, or because they think it’s just a cold.

It’s not because asymptomatic infection is a major driver of transmission. Despite this claim being much repeated, including by public health authorities, the evidence is that (as with other similar viruses) asymptomatic infection is barely infectious and contributes very little to the spread of the coronavirus.

We now have some clear data on how many people who develop COVID-19 symptoms actually follow through with self-isolation. A large nationally representative survey of 53,880 people published this week in the BMJ finds that less than a fifth (18%) of people who have COVID-19 symptoms take a test and less than half (43%) of those with symptoms (and who don’t test negative) fully self-isolate for 10 days without leaving home. Even at the height of the January surge, when hospitals were being stretched, only 52% of people with symptoms (and no negative test) fully self-isolated.

The survey asked the reasons for breaking the quarantine.

The most frequently reported reasons for not fully self-isolating were to go to the shops for groceries or to a pharmacy (21.5%), to go to work (15.8%), to go to the shops for things other than groceries or pharmacy goods (15.6%), because symptoms did not persist or were temporary (15.2%), to go out for a medical need other than COVID-19 (15.0%), to go for a walk or for some other exercise (14.8%), believing symptoms were only mild (14.5%), because symptoms got better (13.9%), thinking it was not necessary to stay at home (13.2%), being too bored (12.2%), to help or provide care for a vulnerable person (11.9%), to meet up with friends or family, or both (11.3%), and being too depressed or anxious (11.2%).

It also asked about reasons for not requesting a test.

The most common reasons for not requesting a test were thinking the symptoms were not due to COVID-19 (20.9%), symptoms had improved (16.9%), symptoms were only mild (16.3%), having no contact with anyone who had COVID-19 recently (13.0%), thinking that only self-isolation was needed (11.5%), not wanting to use a test that someone needed more (11.1%), not thinking you were eligible to get a test (11.0%), and being worried about how colleagues or employers would react if a test result was positive (10.0%).

This confirms there is no reason to believe in the evidence-free concept of widespread asymptomatic transmission to explain why lockdowns don’t work. With more than half of people who have symptoms not fully self-isolating, that’s plenty of opportunity for symptomatic transmission.

In terms of evidence that lockdowns don’t work, we now have a new study to add to our ever-growing list.

Here’s the Evidence Lockdowns Do More Harm Than Good

The Health Advisory and Recovery Team (HART) is a group of highly qualified UK doctors, scientists, economists, psychologists and other academic experts, including sceptical stars whose pieces have been featured or flagged up in Lockdown Sceptics such as Dr John Lee, Dr Clare Craig, Dr Malcolm Kendrick, Joel Smalley, Prof David Livermore, Prof David Seedhouse, Prof David Paton and Dr Gary Sidley.

The team has now produced its most devastating piece of work to date. The new report, entitled “COVID-19: an overview of the evidence“, was sent to MPs today to encourage them to vote against the renewal of the Coronavirus Act in the coming week. With over 50 pages of meticulously referenced evidence from specialists in their fields, it shows beyond doubt why the Government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been ineffective and disastrous and a new approach is required.

“The data is in,” it declares on the cover. “Lockdowns serve no useful purpose and cause catastrophic societal and economic harms. They must never be repeated in this country.”

Here’s the full contents to whet your appetite:

  • COVID policies and harm to children – Professor Ellen Townsend; Dr Karen Neil
  • COVID-19 vaccination in children – major ethical concerns – Dr Ros Jones
  • Vaccine passports – an ethical minefield – Dr Malcolm Kendrick
  • Asymptomatic spread – who can really spread COVID-19? – Dr John Lee
  • Economic impacts – the true cost of lockdowns – Professor David Paton; Professor Marilyn James
  • Mutant strains and the futility of border closures – Dr Gerry Quinn
  • ‘Zero Covid’ – an impossible dream – Professor David Livermore
  • Masks – do the benefits outweigh the harms? – Dr Gary Sidley
  • Psychological impact of the Government’s communication style and restrictive measures – Dr Damian Wilde
  • Lockdowns – do they work? – Professor Marilyn James
  • Mortality data and COVID-19 – Joel Smalley
  • The ONS Infection Survey: a re-evaluation of the data – Dr Clare Craig; Dr Paul Cuddon
  • Promising treatment options – Dr Ros Jones; Dr Edmund Fordham
  • Care homes – we must do better for the most vulnerable in society – Dr Ali Haggett
  • Ethical considerations of the COVID-19 response – Professor David Seedhouse

Read it here, share it on social media, and why not send it to your MP? The more who do, the more likely they are to peek inside.

Stop Press: The report has been endorsed by Sir Graham Brady MP, who said:

The World Health Organisation said last year that lockdowns should be seen as a last resort because of the massive harms that they do. This report is a helpful review of the evidence showing the devastating consequences of lockdown in terms of missed diagnoses, deferred treatments and the crisis in mental health, especially for children and young people. It makes grim but important reading.