Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials have repeated that one of the best forms of protection against the virus is wearing a face mask. As time wore on though, face masks became a major point of contention, with many believing they were unnecessary, particularly for children. By early 2022, even some of the strictest cities and states were loosening face mask mandates, while others continued to keep policies in place.
Many agree that face masks are uncomfortable and make it harder to breathe, understand others, and socialize normally. Others argue that they unnecessarily interfere with some of our day-to-day abilities. And plenty say mandates simply take away freedom.
So are face mask mandates causing more harm than good? StudyFinds has published lots of studies on masks and their benefits, along with their downsides. Here are five findings that suggest it’s finally time do away with strict masking policies for good.
Be sure to check out the 5 Reasons To Keep COVID Face Mask Mandates In Place for a look at the other side of the coin.
Most face masks won’t stop COVID-19 indoors
Perhaps the strongest evidence to end masking is a study showing that most face masks simply aren’t to prevent wearers from catching COVID-19 indoors. Of course, indoors is where scientists say it’s easiest to acquire the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
In the study, researchers simulated a person breathing in a large room with a cloth face mask on. Results show that despite wearing a mask, a large buildup of aerosol droplets remained suspended in the air. This suggests that there is also a need for proper ventilation indoors. Strong ventilation means less chance for potentially viral aerosols to linger around.
Scientists also conclude that many people wear masks that don’t fit their face properly. Thus, many cloth and surgical masks only filter a mere 10 percent of exhaled aerosols. Higher-quality, more expensive N95 and KN95 masks filter over 50 percent of all aerosol droplets.
There is no question it is beneficial to wear any face covering, both for protection in close proximity and at a distance in a room. However, there is a very serious difference in the effectiveness of different masks when it comes to controlling aerosols.
Toxins from disposable plastic face masks harmful to humans and the environment
Since the pandemic, the demand for disposable plastic face masks (DPFs) has soared. Although most are “single-use” items, estimates show it could take up to 450 years for face masks to degrade. Researchers say these masks may be spreading harmful toxins into the environment.
In the study, significant amounts of toxins (lead, copper, and antimony) were found coming out of several masks after exposure to water. Considering the number of masks that do not make it to the trash bin poses alarming warnings. Thus, questioning if masks are really safe enough for people to use every day.
The study analyzed seven different brands of disposable face masks. The masks were soaked in water to model the actual environmental circumstances, epecially those that end up as trash or litter. Results show traces of heavy metals like lead and other toxins, such as carcinogenic chemicals in the water. Moreover, there is a concerning amount of evidence that suggests that DPFs waste can potentially have a substantial environmental impact by releasing pollutants.
Discarded face masks killing wildlife around the globe
It’s not just natural resources suffering from the dangers of face masks thrown in the trash. Unfortunately, a study from the Netherlands says disposable COVID safety gear is having a detrimental effect on the world’s animal population.
The study started after researchers discovered a perch caught in a latex glove during the pandemic. Scientists collected more data and evidence of the consequences of COVID waste pollution on animals worldwide. Further data show incidents of foxes in the United Kingdom and birds in Canada all becoming entangled in discarded face masks. Hedgehogs, seagulls, crabs, and even bats are all encountering the disposable plastics in the environment.
In some cases, results also say animals are eating this debris. There are reports of apes chewing on face masks and a penguin with one in its stomach. These animals become weakened due to becoming entangled or starve due to the plastic in their stomach. Moreover, findings show some animals have started using COVID pollution to build nests. And there’s research showing animals can catch and carry COVID-19 too.
Significantly reduce brain’s ability to recognize people
Faces are among the most informative and significant visual stimuli in human perception that plays a unique role in daily social interactions. However, one study says face masks are lowering the brain’s ability to properly recognize and distinguish between different faces.
In the study, nearly 500 people tested their facial perception while looking at masked and unmasked faces. Results reveal that wearing a mask decreases a person’s ability to successfully tell who someone is by 15 percent. Noting that masks specifically interfere with the mind’s ability to process a whole face instantly. Thus, taking more time in figuring out who they’re looking at.
This could lead to many errors in correctly recognizing people we know, or alternatively, accidently recognizing faces of unfamiliar people as people we know. Moreover, it could even be more challenging to people whose facial recognition skills are not ideal and might cause greater impairment.
Face masks ay cause dermatitis, allergies to worsen
Scientists say face masks may be exposing people to particles which make allergies worse. Certain materials in face masks can carry allergens, causing skin conditions and other symptoms to flare up.
The study analyzed a 60-year-old man with adult-onset eczema, contact dermatitis and chronic nasal allergies. The patient presented three times to the hospital emergency room because of an uncomfortable face rash. His skin conditions had been under control, but with mask-wearing, symptoms began occurring in areas that providers were not yet accustomed to.
Doctors discovered his skin issues flared up in April 2020. This was right after health officials declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and face masks went into everyday use. Thus, concluding that the patient is suffering from dermatitis. They also note that the rash appeared right where the elastic parts of a mask would rest.
Results of the study suggest that face masks carry common allergens in their elastic bands, fabric, and other components which hold the covering together.
The face mask controversy will likely linger as Americans remain divided over the need and usefulness for mandates, or until all requirements for masks are made optional. There are reasons that support both sides of the argument, making it one that won’t fade as long as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on.