NY Times finally accepts mask mandates did nothing. What does this mean for Church members?

Almost three years after the world-changing COVID-19 pandemic began, the New York Times finally accepted reality Tuesday.

This op ed, which can be read in its entirety here, included this:

When it comes to the population-level benefits of masking, the verdict is in: Mask mandates were a bust. Those skeptics who were furiously mocked as cranks and occasionally censored as “misinformers” for opposing mandates were right. The mainstream experts and pundits who supported mandates were wrong. In a better world, it would behoove the latter group to acknowledge their error, along with its considerable physicalpsychologicalpedagogical and political costs.

Don’t count on it. In congressional testimony this month, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called into question the Cochrane analysis’s reliance on a small number of Covid-specific randomized controlled trials and insisted that her agency’s guidance on masking in schools wouldn’t change. If she ever wonders why respect for the C.D.C. keeps falling, she could look to herself, and resign, and leave it to someone else to reorganize her agency.

That, too, probably won’t happen: We no longer live in a culture in which resignation is seen as the honorable course for public officials who fail in their jobs.

But the costs go deeper. When people say they “trust the science,” what they presumably mean is that science is rational, empirical, rigorous, receptive to new information, sensitive to competing concerns and risks. Also: humble, transparent, open to criticism, honest about what it doesn’t know, willing to admit error.

The C.D.C.’s increasingly mindless adherence to its masking guidance is none of those things. It isn’t merely undermining the trust it requires to operate as an effective public institution. It is turning itself into an unwitting accomplice to the genuine enemies of reason and science — conspiracy theorists and quack-cure peddlers — by so badly representing the values and practices that science is supposed to exemplify.

This was exactly the point that many of us made in opposing mask mandates from the beginning of the pandemic.

There had been hundreds of scientific studies done on masking in the last few decades.  The studies actually created a clear scientific consensus before March 2020:  masks do nothing to prevent the spread of viruses.

If you will cast your mind back to February and early March 2020, multiple health authorities confirmed this when telling people not to wear masks for COVID.  But as panic spread in the spring of 2020, all of a sudden health authorities, without any scientific basis, encouraged people to wear masks. 

We can speculate on the reason for this.  It could be that health authorities simply wanted people to believe they could “do something” to avoid getting the virus and still work and move around among other people.  I tend to believe government officials promoting masks were carrying out an exercise in mind control.  I think they were amazed how quickly people adopted the magic talisman of a face mask as a virtue signaling symbol, and they then encouraged the public and private mask battles that took place between the mentally ill mask proponents and defenders of reality.

As I have written many times, there is a difference between private actors who did act like the mentally disturbed during the pandemic, and the Church’s response, which I will not criticize in any way.   We should be clear:  multiple GAs of the Church encouraged people to wear masks, and the First Presidency said in August 2021:  “we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible.”

The most important point I would like to make about the Church response is that it encouraged voluntary action, not government mandates.

In any case by April 2022, Utah no longer required masks, and General Conference was held without the Brethren wearing face masks.  As I have written multiple times, the Church’s mission is to spread the Gospel worldwide, and it was much easier for the Brethren to encourage face masks as a way of avoiding conflict and as a way to make sure people are following the law.  It is also true that many members were paralyzed by fear from the pandemic, and wearing a face mask might help encourage these people to come to church.

In any case, COVID-19 is still around, and people are still catching it, yet face masks have virtually disappeared from public and private spaces.   I just took a domestic US flight, and I can report seeing only a handful of people wearing masks. There are still unscientific tyrants forcing children to mask, and many medical facilities require face masks, but for the most part people have put away their face diapers.

To echo the New York Times, what can we learn as Church members from the unfortunate hysteria regarding face masks?

1)The Church’s mission is to spread the Gospel, not to promote your personal health.  This sometimes means that the Church will give unexpected guidance.   As I have written multiple times, I don’t blame the Church for any of its actions on the pandemic.  We can recognize the scientific realities of the pandemic while also accepting that the Church will need to take public stands for various reasons.

2)In their personal interactions, most Church members are kind and tolerant. But it is also true that Church members fought with each other in person and in social media over the issue of masks.  There is a lesson to be learned here about true charity, and this applies both to people promoting masks and those supporting the science against mask wearing during a pandemic.  I am happy to say that I avoided in-person battles over masks throughout the pandemic, but unfortunately I was “unfriended” on social media by literally hundreds of people for promoting reality.  I also know a few people on my side who literally got into physical fights with mask fanatics.  We need to look at how we can promote the truth while also avoiding contention.

3)The world has changed.  Even the New York Times now recognizes that the CDC is acting in an unscientific way for political reasons.  If we are going to live in reality, we must accept that many institutions that we once trusted, including the media and public health authorities, simply no longer tell the truth about many important issues.  The scriptures predicted that in the latter days there would be secret combinations, and we are seeing it played out in front of us on multiple fronts.  A healthy amount of skepticism of public reports on big issues would be prudent for Latter-day Saints.

The good news is that there are many people who have been “red-pilled” during the pandemic. People who trusted corrupt public authorities and the media no longer do so.  I am sorry to say that many LDS academics, politicians and scientists are much too willing to parrot whatever the establishment says on big issues, and frankly these people should not be trusted.

A good rule of thumb should be:  if the mainstream is saying something, check other sources.  Obviously the mainstream is sometimes correct, but these days they appear to be wrong more often than not.  Fake news and propaganda is everywhere.  President Nelson has famously said we will not survive spiritually without the Holy Ghost guiding us in these latter days.  I would add that we will not survive spiritually or physically without a healthy amount of skepticism to whatever is reported by the mainstream media.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

12 thoughts on “NY Times finally accepts mask mandates did nothing. What does this mean for Church members?

  1. I didn’t wear a mask to church, nor would I force my kids to. We were pretty hated in our ward — but we came, sat far in the back away from everyone, kept our distance, and did not bark about our choices to others. A brother from our ward called me on the phone one day to tell me that because my family wouldn’t wear masks they wouldn’t come to church. I did not accept that and told him to try again. I feel battle worn from the last three years + Covid policy at church. Our ward did not come out of the other side of Covid very well. We had a substantial number of families quit the church — 2022 was rough in this way. There are many things I wish the church would have done differently in regard to managing Covid — but I’m not in charge, so it is, what it is.

  2. I did not wear a mask most of the time at church, and about half of the members of my ward and stake did the same thing. I kept my distance from people. Seems to me that is following guidance, ie, masks are encouraged when social distancing is not possible. Anyway, as I say, COVID is still around but people are no longer wearing masks, so perhaps we were right from the beginning, Joyce?

  3. Joyce, you say there are many things the Church should have done differently. I really don’t know if I agree. (And I mean what I say, I am undecided). On the one hand, perhaps it would have been better if the Church said nothing about the jabs and the masks. But on the other, maybe saying something encouraged some people to go to church who would not have gone otherwise. I really don’t know. But we don’t get anywhere criticizing the Church on this, so I won’t do it. It doesn’t help my testimony or my eternal progression to spend my time questioning the Brethren, so I won’t do it. (I am not accusing you or anybody else of questioning the Brethren, just expressing my personal opinion after much thought on the subject).

  4. I see a church in a deliberate forgetfulness of decisions and policies that played out during COVID. Leaders claim ignorance of not being involved in making these policies or they just ignore their role.

    On one hand, it is good to move on and especially not create conflict and burden those who truly were not responsible for what happened. On the other hand, there are responsible people!

    Personally I have come to the understanding that there is a broken trust. My relationship with a few local church leaders is forever changed, absent their admission of error and request for forgiveness.

    As for the general leadership I hope they would speak up and acknowledge their being swayed by the winds of the world. But I don’t count on it. Unfortunately I see an institution so concerned with portraying itself as flawless that it has become incredibly fragile.

    All the more reason to root the Foundation of our Faith on the Rock who is Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of mankind.

  5. Disciple, with respect, I complete disagree with this comment:

    “As for the general leadership I hope they would speak up and acknowledge their being swayed by the winds of the world. But I don’t count on it. Unfortunately I see an institution so concerned with portraying itself as flawless that it has become incredibly fragile.”

    I see no evidence of that. In fact, the Church has recently released a series of historical essays on controversial topics in which the Church discussing such issues. I don’t see any evidence of fragility on the part of the Church, and in many ways the Church has never been stronger.

  6. A couple of thoughts:

    I personally believe that one challenge the Church had (and all denominations for that matter) was dealing with was autocratic country leaders and U. S. governors who were itching to shut down churches and anyone not complying with COVID edicts. I’m from NY, and although the mainstream media was touting Andrew Cuomo’s draconian COVID mandates most people I know hated it. Yet many fell into robotic compliance, some out of fear of reprisal.

    Our Church was fortunate because we had an online system in place to make tithing donations. Many denominations do not have such a mechanism and they rely on weekly offerings to survive. The churches that were making noise about holding services felt the long arm of the state.

    I was serving in our bishopric. When we could finally process donations, it was quite substantial. Not all our members have access to technology or are not comfortable with online donations. One thing I saw was that when we did Zoom our meetings, we were reaching people we don’t normally see. Yet, we did sadly not see those who do not have access to technology. Many of those online members did not return when we gathered again in person.

    I was disappointed when the bishopric would receive an email from a member who listed those who were not wearing masks in church, or weren’t wearing the mask “properly,” or they were sending a list of members who they believed were not vaccinated thus putting the vaccinated in danger. I had two responses in our bishopric meetings: 1. What is the use of getting the vaccine if you’re still in danger from the unvaccinated, we were better off not getting it; and 2. Is that the reason the come to church? To make lists of those who aren’t complying? When COVID is over will we get lists from people tattling on someone who’s drinking coffee? It’s better for them to keep track of the beam in their own eye. Agency was not being respected.

    I hated the way COVID divided members. I sadly saw sifting going on. Satan used COVID to his advantage to keep us from gathering together and to keep us out of temples. He never lets a crisis go to waste.

  7. The wearing of masks has traditionally been used when one wants to protect themselves from pathogens and nobody has ever had a problem with that. They’ve done it for years in Asia. (For better or for worse) but sadly, because the tables were turned and we were told that we must wear a mask to protect others people were pitted against one another and made to be viewed as the enemy if they didn’t wear one. What a horrible thing to do! It’s amazing how fear can bring out the worst in people. I’m sure the Church was catering to the most fearful by asking everyone to comply. But sadly it became such an outward sign of either obedience or rebellion- of love for neighbor or not. It was so wrong.
    And do we really think it will be different next time? Why should it? We will be told that the next virus will be different in that this one will respond well to masks and vaccines or whatever the heck they want us to do next.

  8. Anne, a small nit to pick: I have spent 30 years traveling to Asia, and I work for an Asian company, and the purpose of all of the mask wearing in Asia before the COVID-19 pandemic was as a courtesy to others because YOU were sick. It was kind a sign saying, “sorry, don’t come near me, I have an illness.” And for the most part it was completely voluntary, ie, not enforced by authorities.

    Asia is much more populated than the U.S. so people live closer to each other, and it does not have the tradition of personal freedom, so it is true that occasionally a government has enforced mask-wearing for various reasons. So masks are part of the culture in a way that was not the case in the U.S.

    Asking everybody to mask up in a culture where everybody is used to masks and uses them all of the time is a very different thing than mandating people in the U.S. countryside wear masks, which is what we faced here.

    I am going to make another point that is important but often ignored: it is one thing for our Church to encourage mask wearing when people can’t social distance, and it is another for a church to ask the government to pass laws forcing people to wear masks in public all of the time. One is simply an attempt to encourage “good manners” and people getting along. The other is about force.

    I was more than happy to wear a mask when ministering to the man who was immunocompromised. It was a courtesy to his wife (he didn’t care, but his wife did). I was not happy to be FORCED to put something on my face that did nothing to prevent viruses when going to a government office, knowing that we were all playing a game of “will you comply with government orders if the government orders you to do something absurd?” And I abhorred the ridiculous game played at restaurants where a virus magically could only attack you if you were walking around the restaurant but was somehow dormant when you were seated at your table. I wonder if people can understand all of the nuances and differences involved here.

  9. So, as for the Church doing things differently …

    I would have liked for them to tell the Government(s), no we will not stop our services. But I realize the church is international & was dealing with different countries, governments and so on. They had to be pragmatic. And as you’ve said, the mission of the Church is to spread the gospel, not to make political statements. So what I think isn’t important. I still believe the church is true, still have a testimony that Pres. Nelson is leading us the way Christ wants.

    I supposed too I never felt comfortable with the notion that is was my job to protect others from getting sick either. We’d never adopted that philosophy before — why start now? As the mother of a food allergic child, I felt like I was being slapped in the face every time that was repeated at church. For years I have fought ward leaders, primary presidents and teachers to please not bring food and candy to church — because I don’t want my kid to be exposed to his allergen. Many years ago when he was too young to advocate for himself, I was sitting up in RS and the Spirit very clearly told me to leave and go down to the Primary room immedeatly. I followed that prompting. As I came into the Primary hallway I saw my son about ready to take a bite of a candy that could have killed him. He didn’t know any better but the Primary councilor did. I snatched the candy out of my son’s hands, threw it at her and walked away with my son in tow. . I just couldn’t get hyped for Covid when there are real dangers out there.

    As for being right about Covid. As we can see in the news, the truth is starting to come out about a lot of things: masks, the damage school closures did, the harm of closing businesses, Covid data being fudged etc. I was right about all of those things — as my past twitter feed will show. None of this seemed right from the start. I think Covid policies were used by the aparatchik class to manipulate people, to give themselves more power and to help get Trump out of office. Idoubt that anyone will be held accountable in this life and we will be left putting the pieces of our lives back together for years to come.

    However, there was good that came out of Covid: as someone mentioned “the sifting” Our ward is much more spiritually healthy post-Covid There was so much contention before, and that’s mostly gone now. Our family developed some very good habits of personal worship during the lockdowns from church, which has made our children and us much stronger. I feel like our kids came out of this with a healthy sense of discernment — they can tell when things are off, very quickly. I feel like our parenting game has been elevated as well. I’m a much more intentional parent now than I was 3 years ago. In secular things: we can see parents getting involved with their schools, showing up to school board meetings, city council meetings and so on. We need to never stop that.

  10. Geoff,

    Have you had the chance to read the book “A Plague Upon Our House” by Scott Atlas? Chapter 1 of the book recaps the panic and hysteria that swept the country and globe in the first half of 2020. The same chapter also covers the research and data that was collected in this same time frame that showed COVID was not anywhere as deadly as thought, and that children especially were not at risk.

    By summer 2020 we had proof of the irrationality of COVID fear as protesting was deemed a government approved COVID activity, but attending school or church was still risky. Yet despite the mounting scientific data and corresponding knowledge, and despite the empirical evidence that it was safe for people to live their lives, the general church leadership followed the Fauci / Birx narrative. This was most evident in the reporting by KSL and Desert News, who heavily pushed stories elevating COVID fear.

    As Jim and Anne and others described, Covid policies created tremendous division and conflict, especially so with church activities. Did it have to be this way? Why was contention about COVID policy allowed to pervade church pews? I don’t care to elaborate about this but will leave this thought.

    We call people leaders and give leadership titles with the expectation that people will lead. A key element of successful leadership is the courage to deal with facts – things as they really are and will be.

    It was my experience and observation that church leadership did not lead on COVID. Hopefully others had a better experience. I believe most members had mine, which was leadership silence in response to the fear and hysteria of the world, and then when in-person meetings happened, those meetings were conducted in a spirit of fear. Cover your face! Keep your distance! Don’t sing!

    Where was the message of Faith and Hope and of Good Cheer? Where was the gratitude to God that the virus was less deadly than feared? Why were secular attitudes of fear and despair allowed and even encouraged to pollute our worship?

    What should have happened? What will happen next time? Can we talk about it? Or do we stay in our lane? Do we have “lanes” for church members to stay in (see Alma 1:26)? I see the lack of conversation as a sign of weakness, an unwillingness to honestly assess an extremely significant time in our church and world history.

  11. A Disciple, I did not read Scott Atlas’ book but I read several op eds by him and I am familiar with his position, and I agree with it. In fact, I wrote many posts on this blog basically agreeing with his position on COVID. I too was extremely frustrated to see so many Latter-day Saints following the unscientific fear porn spouted by Fauci, Birx, etc, and I completely agree that Des News and KSL were hugely disappointing.

    I guess I would say to you: if you know the Church is true, and you know the Brethren are inspired by the Savior himself, why do you think all of this happened? Why didn’t the Savior inspire leadership to act differently?

    It seems there are three possible answers: 1)all of the fear porn was correct, which is the position of most “LDS science” people, LDS academics and LDS politicians like Mitt Romney 2)The leadership was completely wrong and uninspired on this issue and 3)it was a test to see if people will still support the Brethren even when they are seemingly wrong on an important issue. There are obviously nuances to these three positions, but I strongly support number 3.

    When it comes to the question of “where is the hope and faith?” I have an easy answer or at least an answer that easily satisfies me: if we remained faithful to the Brethren the last three years, what are the results? Has the Come Follow Me program brought us closer together as families and strengthened our testimonies? How are we doing in our homes? How are we doing in our wards? Are people going to the temple?

    I can speak for myself and several other close friends in saying that 1)Come Follow Me has been a miracle 2)most families I know that kept the faith are doing great and 3)our ward is stronger and more united than ever 4)we are going to the temple more than ever.

    Your results may be different, but this is how I see it. The lesson for me has been: follow the prophet even when he is seemingly wrong on an important issue, and you will be on the right track.

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