Masks Are Not A Substitute For SARS-CoV-2 Testing

May 16, 2020

Submitted by Ann Kiessling, PhD

It’s important to keep in mind that no “randomized, controlled trials,” the type Dr. Tony Fauci frequently espouses, have demonstrated that wearing fabric face masks inhibits transmission of respiratory viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID19.  As quoted in a recent British Medical Journal review of 32 studies “ “The evidence is not sufficiently strong to support widespread use of facemasks as a protective measure against COVID-19.”

The basic problem is that viruses are the “infectious agents” that pass through filters that block bacteria.  There is speculation that fabric face masks may decrease the distance viruses are exhaled, but they do not block viruses from being inhaled.  Wearing face masks is probably benign, however, unless they (a) increase the frequency with which the wearer touches his/her face throughout the day, and  (b) create a false sense of security against virus transmission.

As with all pandemics, the best defense against the spread of infection is identifying all infected individuals.  Like the measles virus, SARS-CoV-2 is shed at higher titers before symptoms occur because the fever and discomfort are the immune response against the virus, so it’s numbers decrease after symptoms appear.  A complicating factor about SARS-CoV-2 is many, perhaps most, infected individuals never have any symptoms.  It is these individuals that the mandatory wearing of masks is targeting, according to Governor Baker’s Task Force, but only wide-spread testing to identify asymptomatic, infected individuals will be effective in ending the pandemic and the panic it is causing.

By the beginning of May, SARS-CoV-2 testing capacity in Massachusetts increased to thousands per day with about 200 sites available to perform the nasal or oral swab to send to the laboratory for testing, as listed on a newly launched website,

Like Corvallis, OR, with a program in place to test every resident in the town of 60,000, some Massachusetts communities, like Brookline, have initiated “community testing” to determine the incidence of asymptomatic, infected persons in each neighborhood.

Bedford, with about 5,000 households and 15,000 residents, could test one member of every household in a few days, and every Bedford resident in a few weeks, by making arrangements with some of the high through-put testing laboratories, such as the BROAD at MIT.   The timing of the testing could be arranged so Bedford High School Seniors testing negative could have a relatively normal graduation ceremony under a tent.

Outside in the sun is the safest place to be during this pandemic, sunshine is an excellent disinfectant.  This observation is not only supported by the data from New York City that the highest rate of infection was among the folks who stayed indoors all the time, but it is also supported by the testing Bedford Research Foundation carried out for a farm in western Mass:  of the 109 workers tested, only the ones working indoors tested positive, those working outside, even side by side, tested negative.  And of the approximately two dozen indoor farmworkers testing positive, only one had symptoms, such as fever.

The value of “community testing” of asymptomatic persons is also supported by testing results from the 247 persons tested by BRF’s outreach, which includes the testing at First Parish plus a couple of condominium communities interested in providing testing opportunities to residents.  A total of 3 persons tested positive, two with no symptoms and no known exposure, and one with suspected exposure.  None are Bedford residents.  Identifying and isolating these persons until their infection subsides is key to controlling the pandemic.  Although a very small sample size, these numbers support the concept that approximately 1% to 2% of the population is actively SARS-CoV-2 infected at any one time.

Wide-spread community testing is the only answer to stopping the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and re-opening schools and Bedford’s recreation areas.  It’s time to stop hiding from the virus, and take advantage of the robust testing capacity now available in Massachusetts.  First Parish is again hosting Testing Tuesday, May 19, 10:30 to 2:30, with sign-up at

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