Face Mask Review Being Reviewed

Cochrane Review face mask analysis
Face mask research March 2023
by L. Rissa from Pixabay
England (Coronavirus Today)

Karla Soares-Weiser, Editor-in-Chief of the Cochrane Library, today announced her response on behalf of the Cochrane Review 'Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses' was published in January 2023.

This statement, published on March 10, 2023, says this review 'has been widely misinterpreted.'

The unedited response is inserted below:

'Many commentators have claimed that a recently-updated Cochrane Review shows that 'masks don't work,' which is an inaccurate and misleading interpretation.

It would be accurate to say that the review examined whether interventions promoting mask-wearing help slow the spread of respiratory viruses and that the results were inconclusive.

Given the limitations in the primary evidence, the review cannot address whether mask-wearing reduces people's risk of contracting or spreading respiratory viruses. 

The review authors are clear on the limitations in the abstract: 'The high risk of bias in the trials, variation in outcome measurement, and relatively low adherence with the interventions during the studies hampers drawing firm conclusions.'

Adherence in this context refers to the number of people who actually wore the provided masks when encouraged to do so as part of the intervention.

For example, in the most heavily-weighted trial of interventions to promote community mask-wearing, 42.3% of people in the intervention arm wore masks compared to 13.3% of those in the control arm. 

The original Plain Language Summary for this review stated, ' We are uncertain whether wearing masks or N95/P2 respirators helps slow the spread of respiratory viruses based on the studies we assessed.'

This wording was open to misinterpretation, for which we apologize. While scientific evidence is never immune to misinterpretation, we take responsibility for not making the wording clearer from the outset.

We are engaging with the review authors with the aim of updating the Plain Language Summary and abstract to make clear that the review looked at whether interventions to promote mask-wearing help to slow the spread of respiratory viruses.'

Cochrane is an international network with headquarters in the UK, a registered not-for-profit organization, and a member of the UK National Council for Voluntary Organizations.

As of March 11, 2023, other mark-wearing studies and related news are posted at CoronavirusToday.com.

Article by
Donald Hackett