There’s a rather fascinating debate going on about a subject you might have thought thrashed out to death—to wear a facemask to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 or not? What got the ball rolling was apparently this post analyzing the Bengladeshi study which is, apparently, the largest one of the use of masks in a non-healthcare setting and to which Scott Alexander reacted earlier.
A few days ago Tyler Cowen entered the lists with this post, following up with this response from the author of the first post linked and there’s a rather sharp post from Greg Piper summarizing it all at Just the News.
Tyler’s view approximates my own:
To be clear, I am fine with wearing masks myself, I am used to it, and I dislike it but I don’t hate it. On this issue, I am not one of those people translating his or her own snowflake-ism into some kind of biased policy view.
and I did want to highlight what I found to be Tyler’s most astute observation:
Any good assessment of mask efficacy has to be radically intertemporal in nature, and I mean for the entirety of the pandemic. “Not getting infected” now may well raise your chance of getting infected later on, and that spans for longer than any feasibly designed RCT.
Said another way it’s not enough to measure the effectiveness in preventing contracting the disease today. Just how important delaying contracting the disease for two weeks, four weeks, or a year when you will, ultimately contract it is important as well. It seems to me that the honestly remarkable pace at which new treatments are being introduced makes delaying when you will contract the disease that much more important rather than less.
I find that the weakness of the supportive evidence casts a bit of a pall on mandates to wear masks but IMO mask mandate by presidential executive order is itself problematic since
- I do not believe that a mask mandate is within the authority of the president even under emergency conditions
- Although such a mandate might be within the power of the Congress as a temporary emergency measure, a permanent mandate or one of unspecified duration is outside the Congress’s power and
- Such mandates are within the power of the states
As usual I think the underlying problem is not COVID-19 but the Congress and in this instance the torpidity of state governments. That echoes all sorts of other issues much in the news these days including anthropogenic climate change and abortion.
Under the circumstances G. K. Chesterton’s wisecrack rings true to me: it is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged in this country.