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Bonus Blog: Context is Important


Disclaimer: This is not a political post or a recommendation for or against wearing masks. I am passionate about understand current research and helping others to do so. For current guidance on wearing masks, please see

You may have seen a quote from the New England Journal of Medicine on social media about wearing face masks. Does this article recommend against wearing face masks? Let’s take a look to see what this article does and doesn’t say. The article in question is available here

The first thing to note is that the original date of publication is April 1, 2020. Official guidance has changed rapidly. Guidance regarding healthcare access to PPE was originally published March 13, 2020. The CDC published a document on Strategies for Optimizing the Supply of Facemasks on March 16, 2020. It wasn’t until later that the recommendation was made for people to wear cloth masks in public to prevent the spread of disease. Why is this significant? Because the statement is consistent with official guidance at the time of writing

The next thing to notice is the title of the article Perspective: Universal Masking in Hospitals in the COVID-19 Era. We know just from the title that this is not a research study. It is more of a point-of-view article. We can also tell that the authors’ primary focus is the hospital setting, not the general public. Despite not being a research study, the authors’ main points are well cited. I’m used to APA format so it did take me a little bit of time to see the footnotes included in the text. The article itself is written in layman’s terms.

The other thing to note is that mask use, as well as other PPE and stringent infection control practices, is recommended to prevent disease transmission. This is consistent with current guidelines for face coverings. The introductory statements recommended against face masks as a means of preventing catching a disease.

It is also frequently helpful to find out a little more about authors such as their qualifications, any evidence of implicit biases, etc. For instance, the two doctors from California that recently made some controversial statements got into trouble not because they were speaking outside of their scope of practice. At least two of the authors are infectious disease experts. One is the head of the hand hygiene task force at his institution. The remaining two are administrators that are directly responsible for the safety of their staff and patients

Hopefully this helps break it down a bit. If you have other questions about research let me know!

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