Fact Check: America's Frontline Doctors Did NOT Prove Their Claims That Masks Don't Work

Fact Check

  • by: Dean Miller
Fact Check: America's Frontline Doctors Did NOT Prove Their Claims That Masks Don't Work Docs w/o data

Did an anti-mask group of doctors prove its claim that masks are "irrelevant" to the prevention of COVID-19? No, that's not true: The 19 people in white lab coats who stood in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to make the claim did not provide a citation to published research papers nor supply records to support their claim that masks are "irrelevant." But medical journals and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supply multiple citations to clinical and lab research that show data and methods that prove mask-wearing slows the spread of COVID-19.

The claim was made in a video (archived here) posted as part of an October 18, 2020, report by One America News Network under the title "Doctors Speak Out Against Masks." It opened:

A group of doctors from around the country known as America's Frontline Doctors gathered in Washington to speak out against some of the extreme measures taken against COVID-19 thus far. One America's Christina Bobb has more.

Here is how the article and video appeared at the time of writing:

OAN.Mask.10.18.JPG

(One America News Screenshot taken Mon. Oct. 19, 22:09 UTC 2020)

Dr. Simone Gold, founder of America's Frontline Doctors, seen at the microphone in the screenshot, led off the Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, news conference in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building. She said:

The facts are actually not in dispute. Masks are completely irrelevant in blocking the SARS-Cov-2 virus."

Public health officials reject Dr. Gold's statements and provide peer-reviewed studies to support universal mask-wearing to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In August 2020, two months before Gold's claim was made, Lead Stories identified 19 studies that disprove mask skeptics' claims, which we published in a report entitled: "Face Masks DO Work. Period."

Here are some of the major medical validations of mask-wearing to slow the spread of COVID-19:

The Journal of American Medical Association: In an editorial, one of America's leading journals of medical science spoke out in favor of mask mandates and against those who claim without evidence that masks are ineffective:

...this study provides critically important data to emphasize that masking helps prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2...Now, there is ample evidence that persons without symptoms spread infection and may be the critical driver needed to maintain epidemic momentum."

The CDC: In one of its weekly updates on the pandemic battle, the nation's public health agency said two studies support mask-wearing as an effective way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 infection.

This review included two case studies out today, one from JAMA, showing that adherence to universal masking policies reduced SARS-CoV-2 transmission within a Boston hospital system, and one from CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), showing that wearing a mask prevented the spread of infection from two hair stylists to their customers in Missouri."

The World Health Organization: Which early in the pandemic cautioned against public overuse of masks until medical professionals and other front-line workers had enough, reversed that stand based on new findings about disease transmission and on the availability of masks.

At least one California hospital has taken steps to distance itself from Dr. Gold's anti-mask and pro-hydroxychloroquine statements:

Simone Gold, MD, is not credentialed as part of the Centinela Hospital Medical Staff, as she resigned her position here a number of years ago...Further, her practice is not located on our campus, nor is she affiliated with any medical group related to the hospital."

Similarly, Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, the director of the University of Alabama at Huntsville's Division of Infectious Diseases, has spoken out against the public statements made by another member of Gold's organization, Dr. David Calderwood, of Huntsville, Alabama, who has joined Gold in saying hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for COVID-19 and that masks aren't needed. Marrazzo told a Tampa television station that the remarks by Calderwood and other members of America's Frontline Physicians in a July 2020 video were "irresponsible and, frankly, really despicable."

We have excellent, high-level evidence from clinical trials showing that (hydroxychloroquine) doesn't work and that it has some bad side effects...These are people who are posing as physicians, who to me are violating the Hippocratic Oath, which is first, do no harm...By getting up there, and distributing information, with the badge of their white coats, and their degrees behind them, to me it's one of the few things that really upsets me. It's really unacceptable."

Here are other studies the CDC lists as supportive of mask-wearing as a preventive measure:

  1. Rothe C, Schunk M, Sothmann P, et al. Transmission of 2019-nCoV Infection from an Asymptomatic Contact in Germany. The New England journal of medicine. 2020;382(10):970-971. PMID: 32003551external icon
  2. Zou L, Ruan F, Huang M, et al. SARS-CoV-2 Viral Load in Upper Respiratory Specimens of Infected Patients. The New England journal of medicine. 2020;382(12):1177-1179. PMID: 32074444external icon
  3. Pan X, Chen D, Xia Y, et al. Asymptomatic cases in a family cluster with SARS-CoV-2 infection. The Lancet Infectious diseases. 2020. PMID: 32087116external icon
  4. Bai Y, Yao L, Wei T, et al. Presumed Asymptomatic Carrier Transmission of COVID-19. Jama. 2020. PMID: 32083643
  5. Kimball A HK, Arons M, et al. Asymptomatic and Presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 Infections in Residents of a Long-Term Care Skilled Nursing Facility -- King County, Washington, March 2020. MMWR Morbidity and mortality weekly report. 2020; ePub: 27 March 2020. PMID: 32240128
  6. Wei WE LZ, Chiew CJ, Yong SE, Toh MP, Lee VJ. Presymptomatic Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 -- Singapore, January 23-March 16, 2020. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2020;ePub: 1 April 2020. PMID: 32271722
  7. Li R, Pei S, Chen B, et al. Substantial undocumented infection facilitates the rapid dissemination of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV2). Science (New York, NY). 2020. PMID: 32179701
  8. Furukawa NW, Brooks JT, Sobel J. Evidence Supporting Transmission of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 While Presymptomatic or Asymptomatic [published online ahead of print, 2020 May 4]. Emerg Infect Dis. 2020;26(7):10.3201/eid2607.201595.
  9. Oran DP, Topol Prevalence of Asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 Infection: A Narrative Review [published online ahead of print, 2020 Jun 3]. Ann Intern Med. 2020;M20-3012. PMID: 32491919
  10. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Rapid Expert Consultation on the Possibility of Bioaerosol Spread of SARS-CoV-2 for the COVID-19 Pandemic (April 1, 2020). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25769
  11. Schwartz KL, Murti M, Finkelstein M, et al. Lack of COVID-19 transmission on an international flight. CMAJ. 2020;192(15):E410. PMID: 32392504
  12. Anfinrud P, Stadnytskyi V, Bax CE, Bax A. Visualizing Speech-Generated Oral Fluid Droplets with Laser Light Scattering. N Engl J Med. 2020 Apr 15. doi:10.1056/NEJMc2007800. PMID: 32294341
  13. Davies A, Thompson KA, Giri K, Kafatos G, Walker J, Bennett A. Testing the efficacy of homemade masks: would they protect in an influenza pandemic? Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2013;7(4):413-8. PMID: 24229526
  14. Konda A, Prakash A, Moss GA, Schmoldt M, Grant GD, Guha S. Aerosol Filtration Efficiency of Common Fabrics Used in Respiratory Cloth Masks. ACS Nano. 2020 Apr 24. PMID: 32329337
  15. Aydin O, Emon B, Saif MTA. Performance of fabrics for home-made masks against spread of respiratory infection through droplets: a quantitative mechanistic study. medRxiv preprint doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.04.19.20071779, posted April 24, 2020.
  16. Ma QX, Shan H, Zhang HL, Li GM, Yang RM, Chen JM. Potential utilities of mask-wearing and instant hand hygiene for fighting SARS-CoV-2. J Med Virol. 2020. PMID: 32232986
  17. Leung, N.H.L., Chu, D.K.W., Shiu, E.Y.C. et al.Respiratory virus shedding in exhaled breath and efficacy of face masks. Nat Med. 2020. PMID: 32371934
  18. Johnson DF, Druce JD, Birch C, Grayson ML. A quantitative assessment of the efficacy of surgical and N95 masks to filter influenza virus in patients with acute influenza infection. Clin Infect Dis. 2009 Jul 15;49(2):275-7. PMID: 19522650
  19. Green CF, Davidson CS, Panlilio AL, et al. Effectiveness of selected surgical masks in arresting vegetative cells and endospores when worn by simulated contagious patients. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2012;33(5):487‐494. PMID: 22476275

NewsGuard, a company that uses trained journalist to rank the reliability of websites, describes oann.com as:

The website for conservative cable news channel One America News Network, whose stories regularly distort facts to advance an undisclosed conservative agenda.

According to NewsGuard the site does not maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability. Read their full assessment here.

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  Dean Miller

Lead Stories staff writer Dean Miller has edited daily and weekly newspapers, worked as a reporter for more than a decade and is co-author of two non-fiction books. After a one-year Harvard Nieman Fellowship, he served as Director of Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy for six years. As Senior Vice President/Content at Connecticut Public Broadcasting, a dual licensee, he oversaw radio, TV and print journalists, and documentary producers. He moved west to teach journalism at Western Washington University, edit The Port Townsend Leader and write the twice-weekly Save The Free Press column for the Seattle Times. Miller won the 2007 national Mirror Award for news industry coverage and he led the team that won the 2005 Scripps Howard first amendment prize. 

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