How the New York Times Lies about SARS-CoV-2 Transmission: Part 3

by Aug 7, 2020Health & Vaccines0 comments

A medical or surgical mask (Photo by leo2014, licensed under Pixabay license)

To manufacture consent for executive mask-wearing orders, the New York Times lies about both the WHO’s mask guidance and the science.
To read a summary of the key points of this article, click here.

Throughout the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the New York Times has served to manufacture consent for extreme “lockdown” policies that have caused immense harm. To that end, the Times has contributed to the mass fear and panic by pushing the narrative that the community spread of the virus is driven largely by asymptomatic individuals including through the airborne route. However, to support the narrative, the Times has consistently misrepresented the science.

Among the extreme lockdown measures implemented by many states are executive orders mandating the universal use of cloth face coverings in public spaces, sometimes under threat of penalty for non-compliance, regardless of individual circumstances. The apparent rationale for these orders is the belief that “silent spreaders” who aren’t coughing or sneezing nevertheless drive a large proportion of transmission even by just breathing around others.

For example, here in Michigan, the state government has been ordering people to wear a mask to protect themselves from the virus and says that mask use has been required in “any indoor public space”, as well as outdoors if six feet of distancing isn’t possible, “especially” because “people without symptoms may be spreading the virus” by “breathing, speaking, or singing”.[1]

On June 5, the New York Times published an article titled “W.H.O. Finally Endorses Masks to Prevent Coronavirus Transmission”, written by award-winning reporter Apoorva Mandavilli. It characterized the World Health Organization (WHO) as having endorsed government recommendations for universal mask use in the community setting, if not their mandated use. The article also characterized such policies as being firmly grounded in scientific evidence.[2]

However, the article was yet another example of how the Times lies to its readers in ways that serve to manufacture consent for extreme lockdown measures—including executive mask-wearing orders.

In part one of this series, we saw how the same Times reporter, in her March 17 article “How Long Will Coronavirus Live on Surfaces or in the Air Around You?”, characterized the science as having demonstrated that SARS-CoV-2 is airborne transmissible, with the question remaining of how long infectious aerosols can pose a risk to others by remaining in the air. Since the WHO maintained that airborne transmissibility had not been proven, the Times characterized the organization as having stubbornly refused to acknowledge the science. In truth, as demonstrated by examining her own cited sources and as rightly observed by the WHO, the question remained whether the virus is airborne.[3]

In part two, we saw how Mandavilli, in her March 31 article “Infected but Feeling Fine: The Unwitting Coronavirus Spreaders”, characterized the science as having firmly established that a fifth or more of community spread is driven by people without symptoms. Yet, the Times not only failed to produce even a single study to support that claim, but it also grossly mischaracterized its own sources, such as claiming that one study indicated that “unwitting spreaders” represent a fifth or more of transmission events when in fact its authors explicitly stated that there remained no clear evidence of asymptomatic transmission.[4]

The June 5 article on masks followed the same pattern of deceptive reporting. Once again, since information from the WHO did not accord well with the propaganda narrative the Times was trying to tell, it was necessary to attempt to discredit the WHO or to otherwise mischaracterize its position to suit the narrative.

The gist of the article was that the WHO had finally, albeit reluctantly, caught up with the science by endorsing government recommendations for everyone to wear masks. In doing so, the truth that the Times obfuscated was that the WHO, to the contrary, had rightly observed that policies of universal masking by the general public—much less their mandated use—are not evidence-based.

What the WHO instead had endorsed were policy recommendations for individuals wear a mask based on numerous variables that by necessity would require every individual to make that decision for themselves—as opposed to the decision being dictated to them by government bureaucrats. But that distinction was lost entirely on readers due to the deceptive nature of the Times’ reporting.

Since the WHO’s updated guidance on masks also contradicted Mandavilli’s prior claim that studies had demonstrated the airborne transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2, she also resorted to outright lying to readers about the new guidance and, in doing so, deceiving Times readers further about the science on mask effectiveness.

Contents

How the Times Characterized the WHO’s Position on Masks

The title of the article, “W.H.O. Finally Endorses Masks to Prevent Coronavirus Transmission”—or “W.H.O. Backs Wearing Masks After Months of Reluctance” in the print edition—told readers that the WHO had previously not recommended mask use. The article summary below the headline went even further by stating that the WHO “had been opposed to public use of masks, even after governments worldwide had recommended them.” (Emphasis added.)

The lead paragraph conveyed that, despite most governments having already long “urged their citizens to wear masks”, the WHO had for months been “hand-wringing” about the evidence, but on June 5 the WHO had finally reversed itself and “endorsed the use of face masks by the public to reduce transmission of the coronavirus.”[5]

Of course, one means by which governments had “urged” citizens to wear masks is through executive mask-wearing orders. The link provided was to another Times article about the use of face masks in California, the governor of which had “ordered all Californians to wear face coverings, like cloth masks, when out in public.”[6]

…the WHO “made its reluctance abundantly clear, saying the usefulness of face masks is ‘not yet supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence,’…
In the context of governments having mandated mask use in many states, the Times continued on to say that, “surprisingly”, the WHO had for so long “refused to endorse masks”, and the reversal “was long overdue, critics said”.

The article proceeded to characterize the WHO as having only reluctantly conceded that such mask policies are supported by scientific evidence.

In its new guidance, Mandavilli wrote, the WHO “made its reluctance abundantly clear, saying the usefulness of face masks is ‘not yet supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence,’ but that governments should encourage mask wearing because of ‘a growing compendium of observational evidence.’”

The WHO, the Times criticized, had “also provided an exhaustive list of the potential disadvantages of wearing a mask, including ‘difficulty with communicating clearly’ and ‘potential discomfort.’”

The policy shift had come after a WHO-funded study concluded “that respirator masks, like the N95, are better than surgical masks for health care workers.”

“If the problem is the shortage of N95s, the W.H.O. should acknowledge that and not pretend that medical masks are equally effective.”
But, the Times also criticized, the WHO “did not budge from its previous recommendations for medical workers, saying that respirator masks are only needed if such workers involved in procedures that generate virus-laden aerosols—droplets smaller than 5 microns.”[7]

N95 respirators filter out smaller particles and form a tighter-fitting seal around the face and so are understood to be more protective against potentially pathogen-laden aerosols. Surgical masks, by contrast, do not offer the same level of filtration and are more loose-fitting. Consequently, they are understood to be somewhat effective as a physical barrier to larger respiratory droplets, but ineffective for preventing infection from airborne viruses.

By recommending that health care workers use N95 masks in the context of aerosol-generating procedures and not recommending respirators for all health care workers, the WHO was reiterating its position that SARS-CoV-2 was spread mainly via larger respiratory droplets and that its airborne transmissibility had not been demonstrated. (See part one.)[8]

Without explaining that context to readers, the Times next paraphrased Dr. Benedetta Allegranzi, an infectious disease expert and the WHO’s technical lead for infection prevention and control, saying that, apart from aerosol-generating medical procedures, “transmission of the virus so far has only been demonstrated for larger droplets and by contact”.

Directly addressing one of the fallacies of the Times’ earlier reporting, Dr. Allegranzi pointed out that, while studies had detected viral RNA in air samples in some hospitals, “transmission is different, and it has not been demonstrated”.[9]

Mandavilli did not elaborate for readers what Dr. Allegranzi meant by saying that transmission is “different”, but as discussed in part one, her meaning was that the detection of viral RNA by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assays is not necessarily indicative of the presence of infectious virus. That was a caveat that Mandavilli had left out of her earlier report characterizing detection of viral RNA in air samples as proof of airborne transmissibility.[10]

Instead of acknowledging the fallacy of her prior reporting, Mandavilli doubled down by characterizing the WHO’s recommendation with respect to N95 respirators as unreasonable and still out of line with the science.

To that end, she concluded by quoting David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington University and former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), criticizing the WHO for “dismissing that latest evidence that N95s are far more effective than surgical masks in protecting health care workers from Covid-19 exposure”.

(Michaels meant “SARS-CoV-2”, the name of the virus; COVID-19 is the name of the disease caused by the virus, although the distinction is commonly lost and the terms misused even by the WHO, which literally named the disease.)[11]

“If the problem is the shortage of N95s,” Michaels added, “the W.H.O. should acknowledge that and not pretend that medical masks are equally effective.”

In sum, the Times characterized the science as having shown that universal mask use by the public prevents transmission of SARS-CoV-2, and that the use of N95 masks in the health care setting provides much better protection than surgical masks whether in the context of aerosol generating procedures or not; the WHO, however, had only reluctantly acknowledged the evidence supporting universal mask in the community setting and maintained, despite the findings of its own funded study, that surgical masks are just as effective as N95 masks at protecting health care workers.

The Times’ characterization of both the WHO’s guidance and the science, however, is false.

The WHO Had Not Opposed Public Mask Use

Notably, nowhere in the article did the Times provide a link to either the WHO’s prior guidance or its updated guidance on masks. This is perhaps not so puzzling, however, given the fact that the Times was lying about both.

While the Times claimed that the WHO had, until June 5, bewilderingly opposed the use of masks by the public, in fact, the WHO’s prior guidance on the use of masks in the community, published on January 29, recommended that anyone with symptoms should “wear a medical mask”, meaning a surgical mask, as opposed to an N95 or other respirator or a cloth mask.

For individuals without symptoms, the WHO stated that “a medical mask is not required” but did not oppose their use. On the contrary, the guidance stated that if individuals without symptoms preferred to wear a mask, “best practices should be followed on how to wear, remove, and dispose of them and on hand hygiene action after removal”.

The Times also did not relay to readers the reasons for the WHO’s earlier recommendations. As the WHO observed, there was “no evidence” that masks protect healthy wearers in the community setting from becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2.

The available evidence, the WHO observed, suggested that transmission occurred “either via respiratory droplets or contact” and that the “risk of being exposed to potentially infective respiratory droplets” existed when an individual “is in close contact (within 1 meter) with someone who has respiratory symptoms (e.g., sneezing, coughing, etc.)”.

Consequently, it made sense to recommend the use of masks in the community setting by anyone with symptoms as a means of source control, meaning to prevent the wearer from spreading the virus to others through respiratory droplets.

As the WHO observed, there was “no evidence” that masks protect healthy wearers in the community setting from becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2.
Apart from the lack of evidence to support a recommendation for universal mask use, there were also considerations of costs, supply, and potential risks.

“Wearing medical masks when not indicated”, the WHO guidance noted, “may cause unnecessary cost, procurement burden and create a false sense of security that can lead to neglecting other essential measures such as hand hygiene practices. Furthermore, using a mask incorrectly may hamper its effectiveness to reduce the risk of transmission.”[12]

In short, the Times’ claim that until June 5 the WHO had “opposed” the public use of masks is false. The WHO had recommended their use by people with symptoms and provided reasons why it did not make sense to go beyond that and recommend their use also by healthy people in the community setting.

The WHO Did Not Endorse Universal Mask-Wearing Orders

As the Times characterized it, the WHO’s supposed “reluctance” to endorse universal mask use was indicative of a stubborn refusal to accept the science. Indeed, in a later article, Mandavilli cited this one to support the assertion that the WHO’s guidance on masks “seemed to lag behind scientific opinion.”[13] This characterization implied that government policies recommending or ordering universal mask use were evidence-based.

However, as the WHO’s updated guidance pointed out, such policies are not supported by scientific evidence, and the WHO did not endorse them.

Consequently, to support the suggestion that it reluctantly did so, it was necessary to mischaracterize the WHO’s updated guidance, as well. To that end, Mandavilli employed strawman argumentation by asserting that the WHO’s new guidance maintained that good evidence was lacking on “the usefulness of face masks”.

That is false.

That lie was maintained in part by the false claim that the WHO had previously “opposed” public mask use when, in fact, it had acknowledged the usefulness of masks as source control back in January. Furthermore, what the WHO’s updated guidance rightly said was unsupported by good evidence, specifically, was universal use of masks by the public.

The full sentence in the WHO’s updated guidance from which Mandavilli had selectively quoted in fact stated, “At the present time, the widespread use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not yet supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence and there are potential benefits and harms to consider” (emphasis added).[14]

“At the present time, the widespread use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not yet supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence and there are potential benefits and harms to consider.”
Thus, the very policy that the Times claimed the WHO had now reluctantly endorsed was in fact criticized by the WHO for being unsupported by good scientific evidence.

Similarly, the WHO did not say that “a growing compendium of observational evidence” supports a recommendation for universal mask use by the public. Rather, what the WHO said was that, based on the evidence from observational studies, “governments should encourage the general public to wear masks in specific situations and settings” (emphasis added).[15]

The updated guidance went on to list numerous factors that must be taken into consideration to determine the appropriateness of wearing a mask, which state governments issuing mask-wearing orders had ipso facto refused to consider.

Any government recommendation about mask use, the WHO explained, should consider whether the purpose of the mask was for personal protection or source control, the risk of exposure in a given community or occupational setting, the vulnerability of the wearer or others around them to serious COVID-19 disease, the feasibility of mask use given costs and availability, the type of mask, and the setting.[16]

To conduct such a risk-benefit analysis would necessarily mean that the decision must not be dictated to the public by government bureaucrats but left up to each individual to determine for themselves by taking into consideration their own unique circumstances.

Far from endorsing universal mask-wearing policies, the WHO reiterated that, “At present, there is no direct evidence (from studies on COVID-19 and in healthy people in the community) on the effectiveness of universal masking of healthy people in the community to prevent infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.”[17]

In other words, such policies are not evidence-based.

The WHO’s Objections to Universal Mask Use Were Not Trivial

…the widespread use of masks “by healthy people in the general public” could potentially result in an “increased risk of self-contamination ….”
In furtherance of the false characterization of the WHO as having reluctantly endorsed such policies, the Times also portrayed the WHO as having accompanied its endorsement with an “exhaustive list” of trivial “disadvantages”, such as the inconvenience of trying to speak through a mask or the mere discomfort of wearing one.

In fact, the WHO had relayed legitimate concerns commonly expressed in the scientific literature on mask effectiveness about the potential harms that might result from governments telling members of the public to wear masks in the community setting.

Notably, the Times did not relay to readers the concern that the widespread use of masks “by healthy people in the general public” could potentially result in an “increased risk of self-contamination due to the manipulation of a face mask and subsequently touching eyes with contaminated hands”.

Self-contamination could also occur “if non-medical masks are not changed when wet or soiled”, which could “create favourable conditions for microorganism to amplify”.

Other potential harms the Times chose not to convey to readers included “potential headache and/or breathing difficulties, depending on type of mask used”; “potential development of facial skin lesions, irritant dermatitis or worsening acne, when used frequently for long hours”; “a false sense of security, leading to potentially lower adherence to other critical preventive measures such as physical distancing and hand hygiene”; “improper mask disposal leading to increased litter in public places, risk of contamination to street cleaners and environmental hazard”; “difficulty communicating for deaf persons who rely on lip reading”; and “disadvantages for or difficulty wearing them, especially for children, developmentally challenged persons, those with mental illness, elderly persons with cognitive impairment, those with asthma or chronic respiratory or breathing problems, those who have had facial trauma or recent oral maxillofacial surgery, and those living in hot and humid environments.”[18]

All these legitimate concerns about recommendations for universal mask use further reinforced the necessity for individuals to decide for themselves, based on their own unique circumstances, whether it would be appropriate to wear a mask when out in public.

Naturally, therefore, the Times chose not to relay those concerns to readers but opted to cherry-pick the two most trival-sounding “disadvantages” in the WHO’s list.

The WHO Did Not Dismiss the Findings of Its Own Study

As already mentioned, sustaining the propaganda narrative also required the Times to attempt to discredit the WHO’s recommendation with respect to N95 respirators.

Consequently, by quoting former OSHA director David Michaels as though he was accurately portraying the WHO’s guidance, Mandavilli blatantly lied that the WHO had dismissed the findings of its own funded study.

In fact, the WHO included “availability of medical masks versus respirators” among its considerations and advised that “if widely available”, N95 or other respirators “could also be used when providing direct care to COVID-19 patients in other settings.”
Furthermore, by the same means, Mandavilli blatantly lied that the WHO had not recommended N95 respirators for all health care workers without taking mask supply into consideration.

In fact, the WHO’s updated guidance appropriately incorporated the study’s findings while explaining the limitations of the evidence it provided, which did not unequivocally show that N95 masks are more effective than surgical masks at protecting health care workers outside of the context of aerosol-generating procedures.

Furthermore, the WHO explicitly advised that N95 masks could be used more generally by health care workers provided that it wouldn’t restrict the supply to those who were at higher risk due to potential exposure from aerosol-generating procedures.

Mandavilli, assuming she’d read the guidance document she was being paid to report on, must have known that fact but chose to deliberately deceive Times readers to sustain the propaganda narrative.

In its January guidance document, the WHO had recommended the use of medical masks by health care workers when caring for COVID-19 patients and N95 masks or other fitted particulate respirators to protect against the potential risk of airborne transmission “when performing aerosol-generating procedures such as tracheal intubation, non-invasive ventilation, tracheotomy, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, manual ventilation before intubation, and bronchoscopy.”

Cloth masks, on the other hand, were “not recommended under any circumstance.”[19]

In its June guidance document, the WHO did not at all dismiss the findings of the study it had funded. In the context of the health care setting, the WHO referenced the study as follows (emphasis added):

Low-certainty evidence from a systematic review of observational studies related to the betacoronaviruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and COVID-19 showed that use of face protection (including respirators and medical masks) result in a large reduction in risk infection among health workers; N95 or similar respirators might be associated with greater reduction in risk than medical or 12–15-layer cotton masks), but the studies had important limitations (recall bias, limited information about the situations when respirators were used and about measurement of exposures) and most were conducted in settings in which AGPs [aerosol-generating procedures] were performed.

Thus, the WHO did not dismiss but acknowledged the study’s finding that N95 respirators might be more effective than surgical masks while also accurately conveying the limitations of those findings.

Furthermore, while the Times quoted former OSHA director David Michaels to support the characterization of the WHO’s recommendation as not being based on considerations of supply, in fact, the WHO included “availability of medical masks versus respirators” among its considerations and advised that “if widely available”, N95 or other respirators “could also be used when providing direct care to COVID-19 patients in other settings.”[20] (Emphasis added.)

Had Mandavilli sought to do journalism rather than public policy advocacy, she would have chosen not to include Michaels’ blatant lie in her article. Instead, both she and her editors at the Times opted to print the falsehood for the obvious reason that it suited their political agenda of manufacturing consent for lockdown measures, including executive mask-wearing orders.

What the WHO-Funded Study Actually Said

It’s also worth pointing out that the study the Times was criticizing the WHO for supposedly having ignored also contradicted its earlier reporting. That is, it was the Times itself that was dismissing that study’s findings.

“…finding RNA virus is not necessarily indicative of replication-competent and infection-competent (viable) virus that could be transmissible.”
As detailed in part one of this series, in a previous Times article, Mandavilli had falsely characterized studies as having demonstrated airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2.[21]

But the WHO-funded systematic review and meta-analysis, published in The Lancet on June 1, stated that the virus “spreads person-to-person through close contact” and that it “has not been solved if SARS-CoV-2 might spread through aerosols from respiratory droplets” (emphasis added).

While some studies had found viral RNA in air samples, the review observed, “finding RNA virus is not necessarily indicative of replication-competent and infection-competent (viable) virus that could be transmissible.”

The WHO guidance document had also accurately characterized the limited nature of the study’s evidence on mask effectiveness.

The review had turned up no randomized controlled trials, only observational studies, which aren’t as well able to control for innumerable variables that might affect outcomes and are prone to selection bias, or non-randomization that results in invalidation of findings.

Most of the studies on masks included in the review were relevant to the health care setting. None of the few studies relevant for non-health-care settings related to transmission of SARS-CoV-2, only to SARS.

Similarly, none of the studies comparing effectiveness of surgical or cloth masks versus no face mask were on SARS-CoV-2.

The one study comparing effectiveness of cloth masks versus no mask was relevant for multi-layered cotton surgical masks that were considered personal protective equipment (PPE)—not the type of cloth masks people have been advised or ordered to wear in the community setting instead of PPE.

Relatedly, the reviewed studies were relevant to the use of masks as PPE, not as source control in the community setting.

Additionally, the study authors, contrary to the Times’ characterization, did not conclude that N95 masks are much more effective than surgical masks even in the absence of aerosol-generating procedures. Rather, they stated that their findings suggested that it was “plausible that even in the absence of aerosolization, respirators might be simply more effective than masks at preventing infection.” (Emphasis added.)

However, as the WHO observed, most studies were relevant for settings in which aerosol-generating procedures were performed, and there remained “no data to support viable virus in the air outside of aerosol generating procedures from available hospital studies.”

There remained “no data to support viable virus in the air outside of aerosol generating procedures from available hospital studies.”
While the findings of the systematic review suggested that medical masks protected wearers from infection from novel coronaviruses, the authors stated that, “in view of the limitations of these data, we did not rate the certainty of effect as high.” They described “high-quality research, including randomized trials”, as being “urgently needed.”[22]

In addition to referencing the Lancet study in its updated guidance relative to health care workers, the WHO also cited it relative to the use of masks by the general public, stating that (emphasis added):

A recent meta-analysis of these observational studies, with the intrinsic biases of observational data, showed that either disposable surgical masks or reusable 12–16-layer cotton masks were associated with protection of healthy individuals within households and among contacts of cases.

This could be considered indirect evidence for the use of masks (medical or other) by healthy individuals in the wider community; however, these studies suggest that such individuals would need to be in close proximity to an infected person in a household or at a mass gathering where physical distancing cannot be achieved, to become infected with the virus.

In other words, the evidence did not support recommendations or orders for mask use in settings where prolonged close contact with others is avoidable, such as uncrowded supermarkets or grocery stores.

As the WHO also noted, “There are currently no studies that have evaluated the effectiveness and potential adverse effects of universal or targeted continuous mask use by health workers in preventing transmission of SARS-CoV-2.” (Emphasis added.)

Also, contrary to the information provided by the government here in the state of Michigan, the WHO emphasized that non-medical masks are not considered PPE.

Neither surgical nor cloth masks “protect the wearer against airborne transmissible infectious agents due to loose fit and lack of seal or inadequate filtration.”
Consequently, cloth face coverings “should only be considered for source control (used by infected persons) in community settings and not for prevention.” Their use was appropriate “for specific activities” in which “physical distancing cannot be maintained” and “should always be accompanied by frequent hand hygiene and physical distancing.”[23]

Similarly, OSHA, whose former director the Times quoted to support its false characterizations of the WHO and the evidence, maintains that neither surgical nor cloth masks “protect the wearer against airborne transmissible infectious agents due to loose fit and lack of seal or inadequate filtration.”

While surgical masks are considered PPE because they can serve as a physical barrier to droplets potentially containing infectious materials in situations of close contact with patients, cloth masks are “not considered personal protective equipment (PPE).”[24]

“On the basis of one trial cloth surgical masks should not be used as they are associated with a higher risk of ILI and penetration of microorganisims.”
While the Lancet reviewers limited their inclusion to studies on any of the three novel coronaviruses (SARS, MERS, and SARS-CoV-2), all of which were observational and none of which were relevant for the use of cloth masks as source control in the community setting, they also cited a prior review with findings relevant for our purposes here.

Titled “Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses” and published on the preprint server medRxiv on April 7, the authors of that systematic review and meta-analysis, led by Tom Jefferson of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine out of the University of Oxford, included fifteen randomized trials. Fourteen of them were relevant for the effectiveness of masks in the health care setting and one for the general population.

The researchers found that, in both settings, “there was no reduction of influenza-like illnesses (ILI)” with mask use compared to no masks.

They also found “no difference between surgical masks and N95 respirators”.

The one study that included a trial arm with cloth surgical masks “found that the rate of ILI was higher in the cloth mask arm compared to medical/surgical masks and compared to no masks.” (Emphasis added.)

The reviewers concluded, “On the basis of one trial cloth surgical masks should not be used as they are associated with a higher risk of ILI and penetration of microorganisims.” (Emphasis added.)

Contrary to the Times’ characterization that the superiority of N95 respirators over surgical masks had been scientifically proven, the review authors observed that “The findings from several systematic reviews and meta-analyses over the last decade have not demonstrated any significant difference in the clinical effectiveness of N95 respirators or equivalent compared to the use of surgical masks when used by healthcare workers in multiple health care settings for the prevention of respiratory virus infections, including influenza.” (Emphasis added.)

Their review also “identified a dearth of reported findings related to the harms of N95 respirators”, although “many such harms were identified in the setting of the SARS epidemic in 2003 and in the ensuing years and included respiratory fatigue, increased work of breathing, poor work capability, increased nasal resistance, fatigue with minimal workloads, elevated levels of carbon dioxide, facial dermatitis, acne and potential self-contamination events.”[25]

None of that information, though, was deemed newsworthy by the thought-controlling New York Times, for the obvious reason that it directly contradicted the beliefs that it was trying to indoctrinate into its readers.

Why the WHO Updated Its Guidance

Curiously, the Times also did not discuss why the WHO had updated its guidance from a recommendation for mask use in the community setting only for symptomatic individuals to recommending mask use for healthy individuals, too, in specific circumstances.

The reason is relevant to another prior article of Mandavilli’s, in which she’d characterized the spread of SARS-CoV-2 as driven largely by people who have no symptoms (discussed in part two of this series).

The Times’ could have supported its propaganda narrative by explaining to readers that the WHO updated its guidance because studies had since shown that symptomless individuals can still transmit the virus to others.

“Current evidence suggests that most transmissions of COVID-19 is occurring from symptomatic people to others in close contact, when not wearing appropriate PPE.”
However, it could not have done so honestly without also undermining its earlier claims that a fifth or more of community spread of the virus was demonstrably attributable to people without symptoms and that infected individuals “are most contagious about one to three days before they begin to show symptoms”.[26]

As the WHO pointed out, “Current evidence suggests that most transmissions of COVID-19 is occurring from symptomatic people to others in close contact, when not wearing appropriate PPE.” (Emphasis added.)

The WHO noted that viable virus had been isolated from samples from patients who were asymptomatic, meaning that they never developed any symptoms of COVID-19.

“There is also the possibility of transmission”, the WHO further explained, “from people who are infected and shedding virus but who have not yet developed symptoms; this is called pre-symptomatic transmission.”

Contrary to the Times’ claim about contagiousness, however, while “data suggest that some people can test positive for COVID-19, via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing 1-3 days before they develop symptoms”, the detection of viral RNA in patient samples is not necessarily a measure of infectiousness.

Similarly, “viral RNA can be detected in samples weeks after the onset of illness”, but this “does not necessarily mean continued infectiousness.”

Studies had detected higher viral loads, the WHO stated, “on or just prior to the day of symptom onset, relative to later on in their infection.”[27]

Recall from part two that the only study the Times had cited to support its claim that people are more contagious before they develop symptoms in fact had only collected samples from patients after symptom onset.[28] Similarly, the authors of the study referenced by the WHO regarding higher viral loads having been found around the day of symptom onset pointed out that they “did not have data on viral shedding before symptom onset.”[29]

The transmissibility of the virus, the WHO explained, “depends on the amount of viable virus being shed by a person, whether or not they are coughing and expelling more droplets, the type of contact they have with others, and what IPC [infection prevention and control] measures are in place.”

The available evidence from contact tracing “suggests that asymptomatically-infected individuals are much less likely to transmit the virus than those who develop symptoms.” (Emphasis added.)

Furthermore, “The available data, to date, on onward infection from cases without symptoms comes from a limited number of studies with small samples that are subject to possible recall bias and for which fomite transmission cannot be ruled out.”[30]

That is, patients believed to have spread the virus asymptomatically may not have recalled having had some symptoms, and patients believed to have spread the virus presymptomatically may not have recalled earlier milder symptoms or misrecalled the date of symptom onset. Those believed to have infected by such reportedly symptomless patients also may not have recalled (or had any knowledge of) having contact with other possible sources of infection. Also, with relevance for the discussion masks, those whom the symptomless cases were believed to have infected may have been infected through contact with contaminated surfaces rather than via the respiratory droplet or airborne route.

In sum, data indicated the possibility that asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals can spread the virus to others, but the available evidence was limited, and the extent to which symptomless individuals might be contributing to community spread remained unknown. Thus, it was out of an abundance of caution that the WHO updated its guidance on masks.

Conclusion

In Mandavilli’s prior reports, the New York Times had committed itself to a narrative that served to manufacture consent for extreme lockdown measures, including executive mask-wearing orders. According to that narrative, everyone should wear masks when out in public because studies had demonstrated that a large proportion of community spread is driven by symptomless carriers, including through the airborne route.

Since the WHO’s updated guidance on masks contradicted that narrative, it was necessary for the Times to grossly misrepresent the WHO’s position as well as the science.

While the Times characterized universal masking as a strongly evidence-based policy, the truth is that such policies are unsupported by scientific evidence. The WHO rightly pointed this out in its updated guidance, but that fact was omitted by the Times, which instead falsely characterized the WHO as having endorsed the policies for which America’s “newspaper of record” was intent on manufacturing consent.

Instead of acknowledging the errors of its prior reporting, the Times also set out to characterize the WHO as stubbornly reluctant to acknowledge the scientific evidence. To support that characterization, the Times went so far as to blatantly lie to its readers, falsely claiming that the WHO had dismissed the findings of its own funded study when in fact it had incorporated that study’s findings into its updated guidance and accurately communicated the limitations of the available evidence on mask effectiveness.

In forthcoming installments of this series, we’ll further examine the propagandistic nature of the New York Times’ reporting and how it has systematically deceived the public for months about the what science tells us about how transmission of SARS-CoV-2 occurs in the community setting.

Summary of Key Points

  • A June 5 article titled “W.H.O. Finally Endorses Masks to Prevent Coronavirus Transmission” by New York Times reporter Apoorva Mandavilli characterized the science as having demonstrated the effectiveness of masks to prevent SARS-CoV-2 in the community setting while criticizing the WHO for belatedly and reluctantly endorsing policies recommending their universal use by members of the public.
  • To support that characterization, the Times claimed that, until June 5, the WHO had “opposed” the use of masks by the public. In fact, the WHO had since January advised anyone with symptoms to wear a medical mask as source control, meaning to prevent the wearer from spreading the virus to others. In that earlier guidance, the WHO had also accurately noted that there was no evidence that masks protect healthy wearers against infection in the community setting, and there were potential negative consequences of widespread mask use that must also be taken into consideration.
  • The Times also implied, given the political context, that the WHO had endorsed the universal use of masks by the public on June 5. In fact, the WHO observed that such policies are not evidence-based and advised that they be worn specifically in circumstances where there is community spread of the virus and prolonged close contact with others is unavoidable.
  • The Times also claimed that the WHO maintained that evidence was lacking that masks were useful for preventing transmission. But that, too, is false. On the contrary, the WHO’s guidance was premised on studies demonstrating the effectiveness of certain types of masks in certain settings. Again, what the WHO rather said was that there was a lack of evidence to support was “the widespread use of masks by healthy people in the community setting”.
  • The Times further characterized the WHO’s consideration of the potential harms of mask wearing as though focused the trivialities of inconvenience and discomfort. But the Times was cherry-picking from the WHO’s list of potential harms, which consisted of legitimate concerns expressed in the scientific literature, including the potential for an increased risk of infection when not used properly.
  • In a further attempt to discredit the WHO’s guidance on masks, the Times characterized the WHO as having dismissed the finding of a WHO-funded study by recommending the use of N95 respirators for health care workers only in the context of aerosol-generating medical procedures rather than for all health care workers and without offering supply considerations as a rationale for not doing so. In fact, the WHO also suggested that N95 respirators could be used outside of that context if there is a sufficient supply.
  • Furthermore, the WHO accurately observed some of the study’s limitations, rightly noting that it did not unequivocally demonstrate N95 superiority outside of the context of aerosol-generating procedures, as falsely claimed by the Times. In fact, numerous systematic reviews and meta-analyses have failed to identify any decreased risk to health care workers wearing N95 respirators as compared to surgical masks, and as the WHO also rightly noted, there were potential negative consequences to consider in making its recommendation.
  • While relying on the WHO-funded study to try to discredit the WHO’s mask guidance, and having already claimed that airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 had been proven, the Times chose not to relay the study’s observation to readers that this risk remained theoretical.
  • The Times also declined to inform its readers that the study, a systematic review and meta-analysis of available evidence, was relevant only for the use of masks as personal protective equipment (PPE), not as source control. Most studies were relevant for the health care setting and related to other coronaviruses. None of the few studies related to non-health-care settings were related to transmission of SARS-CoV-2. None of the studies related to the use of the types of cloth masks members of the public have been told to wear instead of masks that are considered PPE.
  • Even though the Times had previously claimed that studies had shown that asymptomatic spreaders account for a large proportion of viral transmission, it did not inform readers that the reason the WHO had updated its guidance was because of emerging evidence of symptomless transmission. This otherwise curious omission can be explained by the fact that the WHO also detailed the limitations of the evidence and emphasized that asymptomatic individuals were much less likely to spread the virus to others.

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References

[1] State of Michigan, “Should I wear a mask to protect myself?”, Michigan.gov, updated June 24, 2020, accessed August 4, 2020, https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus/0,9753,7-406-98810-524158–,00.html. State of Michigan, “Face Coverings: Frequently Asked Questions”, Michigan.gov, July 10, 2020, accessed August 4, 2020, https://www.michigan.gov/documents/coronavirus/Face_Coverings_Guidance_for_non-healthcare_workers_Final_685949_7.pdf.

[2] Apoorva Mandavilli, “W.H.O. Finally Endorses Masks to Prevent Coronavirus Transmission”, New York Times, June 5, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/05/health/coronavirus-masks-who.html.

[3] Jeremy R. Hammond, “How the New York Times Lies about SARS-CoV-2 Transmission: Part 1”, JeremyRHammond.com, July 29, 2020, https://www.jeremyrhammond.com/2020/07/29/how-the-new-york-times-lies-about-sars-cov-2-transmission-part-1/.

[4] Jeremy R. Hammond, “How the New York Times Lies about SARS-CoV-2 Transmission: Part 2”, JeremyRHammond.com, August 3, 2020, https://www.jeremyrhammond.com/2020/08/03/how-the-new-york-times-lies-about-sars-cov-2-transmission-part-2/.

[5] Mandavilli, “W.H.O. Finally Endorses Masks”.

[6] Marie Tae McDermott, “Why Aren’t Face Shields More Popular in California?”, New York Times, June 29, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/article/face-shield-mask-california-coronavirus.html.

[7] Mandavilli, “W.H.O. Finally Endorses Masks”.

[8] Hammond, “How the New York Times Lies about SARS-CoV-2 Transmission: Part 1”

[9] Mandavilli, “W.H.O. Finally Endorses Masks”.

[10] Hammond, “How the New York Times Lies about SARS-CoV-2 Transmission: Part 1”.

[11] World Health Organization, “Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it”, WHO.int, undated, accessed August 7, 2020, https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance/naming-the-coronavirus-disease-(covid-2019)-and-the-virus-that-causes-it.

[12] World Health Organization, “Advice on the use of masks in the community, during home care and in health care settings in the context of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak”, WHO.int, January 29, 2020, https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/330987.

[13] Apoorva Mandavilli, “In the W.H.O’s Coronavirus Stumbles, Some Scientists See a Pattern”, New York Times, June 9, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/09/health/coronavirus-asymptomatic-world-health-organization.html.

[14] World Health Organization, “Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19”, WHO.int, June 5, 2020, https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/advice-on-the-use-of-masks-in-the-community-during-home-care-and-in-healthcare-settings-in-the-context-of-the-novel-coronavirus-(2019-ncov)-outbreak.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] WHO, “Advice on the use of masks in the community”.

[20] WHO, “Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19”.

[21] Hammond, “How the New York Times Lies about SARS-CoV-2 Transmission: Part 1”.

[22] Derek K Chu et al., “Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis”, The Lancet, June 1, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31142-9.

[23] WHO, “Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19”.

[24] Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions”, OSHA.gov, accessed July 7, 2020, https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/covid-19-faq.html.

[25] Tom Jefferson et al., “Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses”, medRxiv, April 7, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.03.30.20047217.

[26] Jeremy R. Hammond, “How the New York Times Lies about SARS-CoV-2 Transmission: Part 2”, JeremyRHammond.com, August 3, 2020, https://www.jeremyrhammond.com/2020/08/03/how-the-new-york-times-lies-about-sars-cov-2-transmission-part-2/.

[27] WHO, “Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19”.

[28] Hammond, “How the New York Times Lies about SARS-CoV-2 Transmission: Part 2”.

[29] Xi He et al., “Temporal dynamics in viral shedding and transmissibility of COVID-19”, Nature Medicine, April 15, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-020-0869-5.

[30] WHO, “Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19”.

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About Jeremy R. Hammond

About Jeremy R. Hammond

I am an independent journalist, political analyst, publisher and editor of Foreign Policy Journal, book author, and writing coach.

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