Fact Check: 'Official Study' Is NOT Official, Does NOT Conclude That Masks Caused More COVID

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: 'Official Study' Is NOT Official, Does NOT Conclude That Masks Caused More COVID Not Catalyst

Did an official study conclude that masks caused more COVID-19? No, that's not true: This is not an official study by a government or medical organization. It is a study written by an individual, Beny Spira, an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. Also, the conclusions section of his report says, "no cause-effect conclusions could be inferred from this observational analysis."

The claim appeared in an article (archived here) published by NewsPunch on May 11, 2022, titled "Official Study Concludes That Masks Caused More COVID - News Punch." It opened:

A new peer-reviewed study has concluded that masks are not only worthless against Covid-19, but wearing them might be harmful for people's physical and mental health.

This is what the post looked like on the NewsPunch website on May 12, 2022:

News Punch.png

(Source: NewsPunch screenshot taken on Thu May 12 15:48:49 2022 UTC)

The NewsPunch article cites Spira's study on Cureus, which calls itself a "crowdsourced community platform to share and promote published medical knowledge around the world." The NewsPunch article reaches conclusions the study's author didn't. Nowhere in the study does it mention mental health. The study also says, "no cause-effect conclusions could be inferred from this observational analysis," meaning the author could not conclude that masks caused more COVID.

Also, in a May 12, 2022, email to Lead Stories, Spira responded to the question: Does your study conclude that masks caused more COVID?:

No. But there was a moderate positive correlation between mask usage and COVID deaths, which was statistically significant. This surprising finding suggests that countries with higher mask compliance were somehow having more COVID-related deaths.

Were masks directly causing more deaths? We cannot say that from these data.

The peer-reviewed study looks into the correlation between mask compliance and COVID-19 outcomes across 35 countries in Eastern and Western Europe during the winter of 2020-2021. The study says its "findings indicate that countries with high levels of mask compliance did not perform better than those with low mask usage" -- but its findings did not indicate they performed worse, as the NewsPunch headline implies.

Masks are widely recommended as one of the tools to combat the spread of COVID-19:

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the use of masks as part of a comprehensive package of prevention and control measures to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends them, too:

Wear a Mask to Protect Yourself and Others

  • Masking is a critical public health tool and it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask.
  • Wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently.
  • Wearing a well-fitted mask along with vaccination, self-testing, and physical distancing, helps protect you and others by reducing the chance of spreading COVID-19.

And a September 2021 report by the Office of National Statistics in the United Kingdom shows in Figure 4 that people who never wore masks or felt they weren't needed in enclosed spaces were more than 1.5 times more likely to test positive for COVID:

outlined 2.png

(Source: Office of National Statistics screenshot taken on Thu May 12 18:18:58 2022 UTC)

NewsPunch (formerly YourNewsWire) has published several hoaxes and fake news articles in the past so anything they write or publish should be taken with a large grain of salt. Their Facebook page "The People's Voice" even lost its verification checkmark according to a 2018 report from Media Matters For America.

The Terms of Use of the site (archived here) also make it clear they don't really stand behind the accuracy of any of their reporting:

NEWSPUNCH, LLC AND/OR ITS SUPPLIERS MAKE NO REPRESENTATIONS ABOUT THE SUITABILITY, RELIABILITY, AVAILABILITY, TIMELINESS, AND ACCURACY OF THE INFORMATION, SOFTWARE, PRODUCTS, SERVICES AND RELATED GRAPHICS CONTAINED ON THE SITE FOR ANY PURPOSE.

The site was profiled in The Hollywood Reporter in 2017 where it was described as:

Your News Wire, a 3-year-old website of murky facts and slippery spin, is published by Sean Adl-Tabatabai and Sinclair Treadway -- a Bernie Sanders supporter in 2016 -- out of an apartment in L.A.'s historic El Royale.

RationalWiki described it as:

YourNewsWire (styled as YourNewsWire.com) is an Los Angeles-based clickbait fake news website known for disseminating conspiracy theories and misleading information, contrary to its claimed motto ('News. Truth. Unfiltered').

A while ago we reported that YourNewsWire had rebranded itself as NewsPunch by changing its domain name in an apparent effort to evade filtering/blocking.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

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