I was recently referred to this Cidrap podcast where a Dr. Osterholm is interviewed. He is somebody who attempts to simply “follow the science” even if doing so seems to lead in unpopular directions (which is the case here). And according to him (as of June 2 when this aired) science has failed to demonstrate any substantial efficacy of masks to prevent the spread of COVID. He does go on at length at first (taxing my patience as a listener, while he debunks what we already knew: establishing that masks are more to protect others - not so much the wearer.) But then in listening on, he does eventually get to that and claims that there is no solid science or research demonstrating the efficacy of masks (of the non N95 sort) in protecting others either. Quick caveat to maybe help diffuse some anticipated tension here - he issues lots of disclaimers that he is not anti-CDC and does have an established history of supporting them as well as challenging them. He also says that despite what he is discussing, he himself chooses to wear a mask in public just because he doesn’t want to make others uncomfortable, and wants to be sensitive to expectations in this regard. So even he doesn’t want his message to be used as political fodder.
But the problem (as he sees it) remains that masks only stop a small percentage of the aerosolized droplets that we issue, and so the problem is that people may be lulled into a false sense of security by having masks on, and may then make poor decisions in other regards. I.e. (I’ll feel better going to this crowded, non-distancing event with lots of strangers because … at lease we’ll have masks on.) So he is concerned that we’ll lean more heavily on mask wearing than what science can warrant. I also did note that he never claimed (I don’t think - I only listened once and it is rather tedious) that science had shown masks to not be effective. It had merely failed to demonstrate that they were. So there could be some common sense still in play too. Even if something turns out to be only 5% effective rather than 50% effective, 5% would still be something. [I just made up those last numbers for rhetorical purposes here - nobody quote them beyond this.]
In any case, while he may be unpopular because this will be perceived as swimming against laudable cultural exhortations to attend to each others’ health, is he nonetheless correct about the current state of the science?