A study originally published in the January 2021 Medical Hypotheses, and now published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) under the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concludes, “data suggest that both medical and non-medical facemasks are ineffective to block human-to-human transmission of viral and infectious disease such SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, supporting against the usage of facemasks.”

The work is attributed to Baruch Vainshelboim, Cardiology Division, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System/Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA. The presence of the word ‘Stanford’ in the author’s bio seems to have prompted the widespread use of the phrase ‘Stanford study’ in ensuing headlines and articles. But according to AP, Stanford has responded to clarify that Vainshelboim is not a current employee and he is not working on behalf of the University in publishing this study, though he was a visiting scholar to the University in 2015. AP reached out to Stanford in its “ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation” with Facebook to “identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform,” which may explain Steve Cortes’ recent Twitter suspension after linking to it and including the phrase “Stanford Univ study.”

The abstract summarizes, “Although, scientific evidence supporting facemasks’ efficacy is lacking, adverse physiological, psychological and health effects are established,” and remarks on data relating to three types of facemasks: the form-fitting N95 mask, the common surgical mask, and consumer cloth masks. Vainshelboim states as fact that masks are known to “restrict breathing, causing hypoxemia and hypercapnia and increase the risk for respiratory complications, self-contamination and exacerbation of existing chronic conditions” and cites multiple sources, including the World Health Organization (WHO). His central hypotheses:

“1) the practice of wearing facemasks has compromised safety and efficacy profile, 2) Both medical and non-medical facemasks are ineffective to reduce human-to-human transmission and infectivity of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, 3) Wearing facemasks has adverse physiological and psychological effects, 4) Long-term consequences of wearing facemasks on health are detrimental.”

He calls it “therapeutic and curative” to treat respiratory complications with oxygen supplementation and notes that the “current standard of care practice for treating hospitalized patients with COVID-19 is breathing 100% oxygen,” to lend credence to the challenged claim that masks are known to reduce oxygen levels.

The paper is heavily cited and touted as ‘peer-reviewed’, though a chorus can be found to discredit it as easily as one can be found in favor of abolishing the peer review process. His assertion that “Due to the difference in sizes between SARS-CoV-2 diameter and facemasks thread diameter (the virus is 1000 times smaller)… SARS-CoV-2 can easily pass through any facemask,” should be easily falsifiable.

Though superficial complaints are likely to arise regarding the English-as-a-second-language text there are also issues that might be considered significant. The conclusion that masks should not be used rests on ineffectiveness that is not proven adequately as zero, and the laundry list of “substantial adverse physiological and psychological effects,” including “increased acidity and toxicity, activation of fear and stress response, rise in stress hormones, immunosuppression, fatigue, headaches, a decline in cognitive performance, predisposition for viral and infectious illnesses, chronic stress, anxiety and depression” and “long-term consequences” such as “health deterioration, developing and progression of chronic diseases and premature death” are either not certainly correlated or are more certainly linked to heightened CO2 levels.

Vainshelboim, Baruch. “Facemasks in the COVID-19 Era: A Health Hypothesis.” Medical Hypotheses, Elsevier Ltd., Jan. 2021, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7680614/.

On multiple occasions, the paper makes citations that are not immediately related to the hypothesis. In one such reference, he weakly justifies the inclusion of the tertiary observation with an Orwellian opening parenthetical: “Interestingly, 99% of the detected cases with SARS-CoV-2 [as of October 2020] are asymptomatic or have mild condition, which contradicts with the virus name (severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus-2).

In another, he refers to a March 2020 paper in which Anthony Fauci responds to reported 1.4% mortality rates by writing,

“If one assumes that the number of asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic cases is several times as high as the number of reported cases, the case fatality rate may be considerably less than 1%. This suggests that the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%) or a pandemic influenza (similar to those in 1957 and 1968) rather than a disease similar to SARS or MERS, which have had case fatality rates of 9 to 10% and 36%, respectively.”

Citing the same Fauci paper, he continued:

“In addition, data from hospitalized patients with COVID-19 and general public indicate that the majority of deaths were among older and chronically ill individuals, supporting the possibility that the virus may exacerbate existing conditions but rarely causes death by itself.”

Vainshelboim is listed widely on scholarship websites as a collaborator on a range of published studies with topics that include cardiorespiratory fitness and pulmonary disease. On this study, he is listed alone.