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 physical, psychological, pedagogical 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.