When It Comes to Masks, the CDC is its Own Worst Enemy | Opinion

Critics, pundits and social media accounts jump to accuse Joe Rogan of spreading COVID misinformation when he interviews experts who utter even a syllable with which they disagree. Yet they seem reluctant to call out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for doing much worse.

The CDC spread what amounts to misinformation in its promotion of cloth masks, which countless medical experts have said are useless against Omicron, the dominant COVID-19 variant in the United States.

In a press release and accompanying tweet, the CDC announced that N95/KN95 offered the most protection against COVID in indoor settings. It lowers your risk by some 83 percent over going maskless. But in the accompanying graph, the CDC claimed cloth masks cut the risk by 56 percent compared to forgoing masks altogether.

Is this finding on cloth masks significant? The study says it's not.

As is usually the case, the devil is in the details. And there are a lot of particulars rendering this study questionable.

Researchers conducted the study of 1,828 Californians between February 18 and December 1, 2021. That timeline is an important detail. The more contagious Omicron variant first officially appeared in the United States on the very same day the study concluded.

While the variant was almost certainly already here before it was officially confirmed, the study's early start date makes it highly likely that most of the COVID cases were from the Delta variant.

Omicron is exceptionally contagious. And when you have a virus with a high contagion rate and a preference for the upper respiratory system—such as Omicron—a cloth mask offers little to no protection. As the Cleveland Clinic notes, "cloth masks, which are often made of materials like cotton, don't do much to protect you from inhaling particles that carry the virus—and with a virus as infectious as omicron, that becomes a problem."

Joe Biden mask
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 13: U.S. President Joe Biden holds a mask as he gives remarks on his administration's response to the surge in COVID-19 cases across the country from the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on January 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. During the remarks President Biden urged unvaccinated individuals to seek the vaccine and highlighted his plan to distribute free COVID-19 tests and masks to the American people. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The CDC study's own authors note the limitations of their data because it occurred before the prevalence of Omicron. And the study warns that the data showing a 56 percent lower chance of getting COVID while wearing a cloth mask versus none at all "was not statistically significant." That language appears in very fine print at the bottom of the graph the CDC posted on Twitter, but you won't see the message unless you click the image and then zoom over it.

Why does the CDC promote cloth masks based on a study that doesn't even look at the prevalent variant? Why not ditch the statistically insignificant finding on cloth masks altogether? Unfortunately, the agency takes a "better something than nothing" attitude on masks. That's a bad strategy.

Omicron laid bare the unscientific promises of public health officials and many national media voices. The CDC's strategy of overpromising and underdelivering has created multitudes of CDC-skeptics.

Officials told the public that the vaccine would protect them from getting COVID. That was wrong.

They told the public that COVID spreads outside when the truth is it's almost impossible to transmit outdoors.

Parents heard warnings that their kids are at significant risk from COVID only to find out they're the least at-risk unless they're immunocompromised.

If you dismissed or questioned any of the assertions made by the CDC and those parroting these talking points, you were derided as a conspiracy theorist and silenced on social media.

Now, despite mountains of data and assertions by medical professionals suggesting cloth masks are all but useless, the CDC still pushes a strategy of "it's better than nothing." But when the cloth mask is barely—if at all—better than nothing, cloth mask wearers will inevitably catch COVID and wonder why the CDC led them astray. They'll be less trusting of the agency in the future.

Is promoting a cloth mask that doesn't protect against Omicron truly worth the erosion of public trust in the CDC? I wouldn't think so. So why can't CDC officials help themselves?

Jason Rantz is a frequent guest on Fox News and is the host of the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH Seattle, heard weekday afternoons. You can subscribe to his podcast here and follow him on Twitter: @jasonrantz.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.