Based on a randomized controlled trial, scientists in Denmark found that surgical masks do not protect the wearers against Coronavirus infection. Soon after the COVID-19 study was made public, it turned into a debatable topic as many on social media claimed that the Danish study showed masks were ineffective at preventing the transmission of Coronavirus caused disease.
The lead author of the Danish study, Dr. Henning Bundgaard, professor of Cardiology at Rigshospitalet in Denmark disagreed with such conclusions made by social media users. "Our study gives an indication of how much you gain from wearing a mask." Even though it showed not much evidence, "a small degree of protection is worth using the face masks because you are protecting yourself against a potentially life-threatening disease," he said.
Misinformation Spreads Like Wildfire
Instead of telling people the details of the study, many social media users immediately started spreading false information about the study. A Facebook group, Keep Britain Free, became one of those misinformation spreaders on social media.
In the social media site, the group wrote in the description section, "We believe that the Govt has acted illegally and disproportionately over the COVID 19 lockdown and we are taking action." After the news about the Danish study turned viral, the Keep Britain Free immediately posted the link of the story about the research and said, "Denmark proves masks are NOT effective." This post is not available now on Facebook but the post apparently got 700 shares.
A UK blog, called Lockdown Sceptics also posted a story on the study, while stating that, "the headline result is that in the study masks do little or nothing to lower the infection rate". A social media user Cemil Barlas tweeted "The result of this research should be put into the mouth of those who say mask..they finally made a scientific experiment on the mask in Denmark.. result; has no effect.." As of Friday, November 20 the Tweet was retweeted over 450 times and received around 1,300 likes.
While netizens started a new trend on Twitter, #MaskDontWork, a netizen tweeted, "See recent study of close to 7,000 in study regarding masks. They lie, our politicians (big surprise) media, social media. It's not about the Rona, it's about tyranny. Wake up people. #MaskDontWork".
Study full of inaccuracies
As per the critics, there are limitations, such as low compliance—many of the study participants did not complete the procedure and a high number of people who were supposed to wear masks did not use it. Critics also noted that the research was conducted in a population where the spread of Coronavirus was already low.
The Denmark researchers did not see the drastic reduction in infection they were hoping for during the trial. Both groups—those who were asked to wear masks and those who didn't—ended up with roughly similar rates of infection.
In terms of transmission, the researchers didn't address what happens if people go out shopping and socializing, without a mask; what happens if people around you are wearing a mask and you decide not to and most importantly it only looked at the infection risk for the wearer. The scientists did not test whether masks prevent people from spreading the Coronavirus caused disease if someone is already sick.
Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz an epidemiologist at the University of Wollongong said. "It is not correct to say that masks failed, or are useless, based on this study." Dr. Tom Frieden, former Director for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said, "There is absolutely no doubt that masks work as source control." He clarified that "an N95 mask is better than a surgical mask. A surgical mask is better than most cloth masks. A cloth mask is better than nothing".
He also said that the Danish study researchers used antibody tests to diagnose Coronavirus cases that could have led to a significant number of false positives. The lead author of the study Bundgaard also agreed to the possibility of the false positive.