Researchers withdraw study showing efficacy of mask mandates after increased virus cases in areas observed

A study published in late October by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology linking a decrease in coronavirus hospitalizations to a face-mask mandate has been withdrawn following an increase in cases in the areas studied.

“The authors have withdrawn this manuscript because there are increased rates of SARS-CoV-2 cases in the areas that we originally analyzed in this study,” the updated abstract of the study titled “Decrease in Hospitalizations for COVID-19 after Mask Mandates in 1083 U.S. Counties” now reads. “New analyses in the context of the third surge in the United States are therefore needed and will be undertaken directly in conjunction with the creators of the publicly-available databases on cases, hospitalizations, testing rates. Etc.”

The update adds: “We will be performing this in conjunction with machine learning experts at UCSF. Therefore, the authors do not wish this work to be cited as reference for the project. We hope to have an updated analysis using data from the 2nd and now 3rd wave of SARS-CoV-2 in this country soon. If you have any questions, please contact the corresponding author.”

Professor Carl Heneghan of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine has cautioned against these kind of observational studies being used to determine mask efficacy.

“We consider it is unwise to infer causation based on regional geographical observations as several proponents of masks have done,” Heneghan wrote in July. “Spikes in cases can easily refute correlations, compliance with masks and other measures is often variable, and confounders cannot be accounted for in such observational research.”

The withdrawal comes the same month that the first randomized control trial of the efficacy of face masks during the coronavirus pandemic was published, showing little to no protection against infection for the wearer. However, the study fell short of determining whether or not a mostly masked population protects others from COVID-19 transmission.

According to the study, the “recommendation to wear surgical masks to supplement other public health measures did not reduce the SARS-CoV-2 infection rate among wearers by more than 50% in a community with modest infection rates, some degree of social distancing, and uncommon general mask use.”

The study added, “Recommendation to wear a surgical mask when outside the home among others did not reduce, at conventional levels of statistical significance, incident SARS-CoV-2 infection compared with no mask recommendation.”

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization currently recommend mask-wearing as an effective way to stop the spread of the virus, which other health experts and models have supported.

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