by Jon Sanders
Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies, John Locke Foundation
Recently, a reporter asked me to comment on a story regarding mask orders in North Carolina. As is my wont, I provided far too much information. Here, with some extensions, is what I offered.
First, it is not the case that people merely complied with the governor’s order or local orders. A solid minority did not, and they learned which businesses didn’t require it of them and supported those. Several pockets in the state, generally away from the urban enclaves, remained unofficially mask-free throughout. Some county sheriffs publicly refused to enforce the mandates.
In discussing that aspect, I’m reminded of WRAL’s outraged investigative reports (discussed here) into Garner businesses that put their survival above reporters’ inflamed fears and dared to welcome people who, in the words of one such report, “are choosing to ignore the rules and show their faces when they go shopping.”
Show their faces when they go shopping. The media’s role in perpetuating disproportionate fear to promote clicks and their preferred politics must never be forgotten, and WRAL has been one of the worst offenders in this regard (some examples here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).
Also, not even once out of the 12 times that Gov. Cooper extended or even tightened his mask order against people were daily new cases below where they were when he originally leveled the dictate. Not once.
Nevertheless, the governor continued to say that “science and data” backed his orders. In 2020 I went through all 23 of his citations looking for findings strong enough to justify such an extreme emergency order against people. There simply was none.
I went through all 23 of the governor’s research citations looking for findings strong enough to justify such an extreme emergency order against people. There simply was none.
Cooper cited no randomized controlled trials finding face masks to be effective interventions, because there are none. RCTs are the gold standard of research. Years of RCTs had demonstrated precisely the opposite: that masks are ineffective against flus and other respiratory viruses, which would include SARS-CoV-2.
Some of the research Cooper cited, in fact, flat-out contradicted his orders. One said that “Medical masks were not effective” and even that “cloth masks may increase the risk of infection.”
Several others also found cloth masks to be particularly ineffective — but remember, Cooper’s orders were for “face coverings,” which his orders stated “may be factory-made, sewn by hand, or can be improvised from household items such as scarfs, bandanas t-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels.” In fact, Cooper’s definition of his ordered “face coverings” specifically excluded surgical masks, which he wanted in health care settings, or N95 respirators, which he declared were “not recommended for general public use or use in public settings, as they should be reserved for healthcare providers and other medical first responders in a health care setting.”
Continuing: Some of Cooper’s cited research warned against the health dangers of long-term wearing of masks, which would include all day on the job and in school, and against wearing masks while engaging in exercise and physical exertion, which would include while working out in gyms or participating as student athletes.
Others warned against lockdowns, which Cooper also did, with one saying doing so would bode “catastrophic consequences … which ultimately will lead to more suffering, poverty, and death than the virus itself, especially for the working poor.”
“The science” Cooper hand-picked told him: don’t dare lock down your economy, don’t stick masks on people exercising or playing sports, and don’t think there’s much evidence masks work — and your cloth masks might even be worse than nothing.
Again, the Cooper administration cited these studies as proof Cooper was “following the science.” Meanwhile, “the science” he hand-picked told him: don’t dare lock down your economy, don’t stick masks on people exercising or playing sports, and don’t think there’s much evidence masks work — and your cloth masks might even be worse than nothing.
Some of his research was straight-up ridiculous. Two had been so riddled with errors that they were subject to calls for retraction, and one in fact had already been retracted. One relied on a handful of phone calls with teenagers and others plied with $25 gift cards in Winnebago County, Wisconsin, and was only about how to message masking to young adults.
Speaking of messaging, several of Cooper’s cited studies were interested in changing Western cultural appreciation for individual liberty to be more compliant about masks as they are in China and other Asian cultures.
Several of Cooper’s studies were interested in changing Western cultural appreciation for individual liberty to be more compliant about masks as they are in China and other Asian cultures.
Nothing would have stopped Cooper, state health bureaucrat Mandy Cohen, and others from recommending masks. Forcing them on people is the issue. An order backed by law enforcement, as opposed to a recommendation relying on voluntary choice, requires overwhelming proof that the compelled action would in fact address the emergency. There was never any such proof for forcing face masks on healthy people, and there still isn’t.
It’s also not enough that mask orders are falling. A free and healthy society needs to ensure that such mandates never return, not to our schools, nor our jobs, nor our restaurants or transportation choices or elsewhere.