We’ve encountered Head Girl Science Fan Veronika Hackenbroch here at the plague chronicle once before. She’s a medical writer for Spiegel who defended lockdowns until the very end and is still fighting a halfhearted rearguard action to keep Corona alive. Her latest is a diatribe demanding that Germans “Get their masks back out” because “Covid infections are rising again. If you’re smart, you’ll wear a mask, even if the government doesn’t make you.”
To make this argument, Hackenbroch must first surumount a considerable hurdle, namely that the venerated Covid prophet Christian Drosten has been increasingly noncommittal about masking, at one point even saying he won’t mask in unmasked company because he “doesn’t want to be Dr. Strange.” For someone like Hackenbroch, whose entire worldview is shaped by the opinions of arbitrary Science Authorities, this is no small thing, but she can take some comfort in the fact that the French Health Minister is still a committed fan of face diapers who believes that “masking must become commonplace.” There’s also the fact that nasal spray vaccine enthusiast Akiko Iwasaki “currently travels wearing an FFP2 mask.”
There are people who spend thousands acquiring handbags sported by their favourite film stars, and there is Veronika Hackenbroch, who does whatever the Yale virus luminary Iwasaki does.
Only after urging her readers to imitate the personal eccentricities of assorted Covid celebrities does Hackenbroch bother to address the scientific evidence:
Masks, especially FFP2 masks, can significantly reduce the risk of infection. In a California study, the risk of corona infection was 66 percent lower in study participants who wore a medical mask for two weeks than in people without masks. For FFP2 mask wearers, the figure was as high as about 83 percent.
Masks are even better than for self-protection when it comes to protecting the community: if everyone wears a correctly fitted FFP2 mask, including those who are unknowingly infected and already contagious, the risk of infection drops into the per thousand range even in close contact, according to a study by the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organisation in Göttingen.
The California study finds that respirators lower the odds of infection by 83%, a clearly impossible statistic contradicted by many other studies, natural experiments and also by publicly available case data. The Max Planck study merely looks at the mechanics of masking – things like “respiratory particle size distribution” and “exhalation flow physics” – to predict how well masking ought to work. Its insane results that FFP2 masks can reduce the risk of infection nearly to zero are replicated nowhere in the real world, and seem to be in tension with the California study Hackenbroch cited just a few sentences earlier.
Then things really go off the rails:
That mask-wearing permanently weakens the immune system due to the lack of contact with pathogens (“immunodeficiency”) is a myth. It is not true that you have to be sick regularly to have healthy immune defence. You don’t have to train your immune system like a muscle. On the contrary, several viral infections only increase the susceptibility to further infections.
The adaptive immune system is a real thing, and in the absence of regular exposure to constantly evolving pathogens, adaptive immunity loses its ability to respond to new infections. Or does Hackenbroch not think that regular Covid vaccination is necessary, because “you don’t have to train your immune system”?
As with fellow Covid harpy Christina Berndt, of course, Hackenbroch’s primary concern is that if not enough people mask, she won’t feel comfortable masking. She concedes that “now is not the time to make masks compulsory again,” but she does hope that more will “act responsibly” so she doesn’t have to worry about passersby thinking she’s “an oddball.” It’s a remarkably petty concern on behalf of a measure that Hackenbroch believes so strongly will protect her from a virus she continues to insist is quite dangerous.
On the one hand, it is amusing to watch the Hackenbrochs of the world stomp their feet and demand that all of society bend to their eccentric preferences. For the early years of the pandemic, they rode a massive wave of propaganda-induced virus panic and helped shape the hygiene hysteria of millions. Now their ranks have been reduced to a few isolated ninnies whose opinions, thankfully, very few care about. That they themselves don’t seem to have noticed this shift is an occasion for low comedy. On the other hand, sporadic local mask mandates are returning, and this thing won’t be fully over until every last one of these mask nags is shamed into silence. Masking is deeply irrational, it has no demonstrable purpose, it seems to have addictive properties for some people, and if done frequently enough it threatens merely to increase public hygiene anxiety and set off another self-reinforcing virus panic spiral.