Face Masks

The Dirty Secret About How Masks Really “Work”

It is difficult to believe that Public HealthTM is trying to force America to mask up again, but here we are. The question is, why?

(Article cross-posted from Brownstone Institute)

The dirty secret is this: Masks don’t work by controlling the virus. Masks work by controlling the people.

If we’re talking about stopping the spread of the virus, masks simply don’t work.

But if we’re talking about stoking fear, instilling blind obedience to state authorities, sowing discord between citizens, and publicly “outing” skeptics and dissidents – in other words, creating an authoritarian, even totalitarian system of public health – then masks work very well indeed.


By this late date, it has been established beyond honest scientific doubt that masking is ineffective at stopping the contraction and spread of COVID-19. This is true both at the microscopic level and at the population level.

The early mask mandates regarding COVID-19 were largely “justified” on the assertion that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was not prone to airborne spread. However, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has since been proven to be an airborne virus (like influenza), meaning it can remain circulating in room air for extended periods of time, and spreads in this manner. SARS-CoV-2 viruses have also been proven to be much smaller in size than the holes in cloth and surgical masks.

Therefore, at a microscopic level, Harvey Risch is correct: trying to block the SARS-CoV-2 virus with a surgical mask is quite literally like trying to keep mosquitos out of your yard by erecting a chain-link fence.

At a population level, the latest Cochrane meta-analysis of the available randomized, controlled trials surrounding masking and respiratory viruses concluded that “Wearing masks in the community probably makes little or no difference to the outcome of influenza‐like illness (ILI)/COVID‐19 like illness compared to not wearing masks. Wearing masks in the community probably makes little or no difference to the outcome of laboratory‐confirmed influenza/SARS‐CoV‐2 compared to not wearing masks.”

(It should be noted that as the mask debate has been resurrected, Cochrane has been under intense pressure by pro-mask entities to addend and modify their comments about this study, to which the organization has capitulated.)

Furthermore, this study is only one in addition to the hundreds of other studies that clearly outline the epidemiologic ineffectiveness and real harms of masks, many of which have been known since at least 2021.

To summarize: at the microscopic level, masks do not stop the exit or entry of the virus into human bodies, and at the population level, mask use has not been shown to provide any benefit, and has been shown to have numerous harms.


The entire Public HealthTM enterprise in the West has a strong political and authoritarian impulse built into it from its very conception. While a detailed review of this is beyond the scope of this article, it harkens back at least to the figure of Rudolf Virchow, the preeminent 19th century German physician, opponent of Semmelweis and Darwin, and founder of so-called “social medicine,” who famously wrote that “Medicine is a social science, and politics nothing but medicine at a larger scale.”

The attitude that Public HealthTM should possess the power to dictate national and local political policy for the “public good” (as they, the “experts,” unilaterally determine it to be) has increased over the past century, especially in the United States. Around it there have grown vast, lucrative industries, from which (since at least the Bayh-Dole Act), Public HealthTM officials often profit handsomely. The vaccine industry is only the most obvious of these.

During the COVID era, the authoritarianism of Public HealthTM morphed into totalitarian mode, with the unprecedented lockdowns, school closures, travel restrictions, vaccine mandates, etc. that we all endured. The most visible and most easily enforceable symbol of this power grab were masks.

Masks, even the comically useless ones made of old handkerchiefs, or the filthy, week-old paper surgical ones seen on countless chins, signaled compliance and submission. For the very real Public HealthTM purpose of unquestioning obedience, masks work very well indeed.

Masks are effective at instilling fear in people. Fearful people more readily submit to authority, particularly when that authority promises a solution to the cause of their fear.

Masks are effective as virtue signals of compliance, bolstering the submissive person’s ego. Masks also impose a very strong peer-pressure effect, which pushes uncertain persons toward following the crowd.

Masks are effective at humiliating people. They are uncomfortable, ugly, dirty, and unnatural. They truly are “face diapers.” In a word, masks are degrading. If the ways of the old Eastern bloc taught us anything, it is that the systematic degradation of individuals, especially for patently stupid reasons, is highly effective at promoting totalitarian ends.

Masks are also extremely effective in exposing dissidents. Who dares to stand up against the state? There’s one, right over there. Shame on them. Shun them. Arrest them.

That’s how masks really “work”, and that’s why the Public HealthTM types love them.

That’s why they’re trying to bring them back.

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About the Author

C.J. Baker, M.D. is an internal medicine physician with a quarter century in clinical practice. He has held numerous academic medical appointments, and his work has appeared in many journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine. From 2012 to 2018 he was Clinical Associate Professor of Medical Humanities and Bioethics at the University of Rochester.