True Love: Japan, Masks and the Media

I wish I loved anything as much as the media loves praising Japan's mask culture

Do you have a significant other in your life? Do you have children? Or parents? Or a family? A dog? Maybe you have a sports team you really, deeply care about and are emotionally invested in. All of these things require love, attention, affection and personal attachment.

Well none of it compares to the love the media has for Japan’s mask usage. It’s not possible for normal people to maintain a level of love that comes anywhere close to the unending adoration media outlets have for crediting Japan’s mask culture and compliance with a perceived level of COVID success. It’s remarkably, unbelievably powerful.

So let’s go through some of the cringe-inducing hysterics and provide some context to what happened in the months afterwards, shall we?


March 31, 2020

We begin with a very early adopter of the premature obsession: National Review and their March 31st article rushing to credit masks in Japan even before the CDC did their evidence-free flip flop in early April.

Masks matter because COVID-19 spreads through droplets. The primary way a healthy person is exposed is by coming into physical contact with viral particles contained in the saliva or respiratory secretions of a person with the virus — including one without symptoms. Particles are released when someone infected sneezes, clears his or her throat, laughs, eats or speaks. Droplet spread is not the same as aerosol spread, and evidence suggests that, unlike measles, COVID-19 viral particles do not remain airborne for long enough to create a “cloud” of infectious gas. (The risk of aerosol spread is high mostly for medical professionals, who may come in prolonged close contact with infected patients during procedures.)

Wrong! COVID is most definitely spread through aerosols, which makes masks functionally useless. Naturally, the experts who pressed the CDC to finally recognize the importance of aerosol spread also used it to push for more masking, but that’s to be expected from True Believers of the The Science™.

Here’s the perfect encapsulation of inaccurate assumptions later proven wrong:

The visible success Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and other East Asian countries have had in keeping the virus under control should prompt many in the West to revisit their mask-skeptical stance. The new mantra should take into account that masks and hand washing, taken together, have been shown to reduce the transmission of disease.

Let’s take a look at what happened in Japan after this article was published:

Cases went up 7708%. Compliance, as seen everywhere else, was predictably unable to prevent the dramatic increases seen throughout winter and into spring. Even now, cases seem to have plateaued at a level 1759% higher than what was reported in March 2020. Amazing how masks “reduce the transmission of disease” and then suddenly stop reducing it, right?

This was not the last time media outlets rushed to an inaccurate conclusion. Oh no. Not even close.


May 8, 2020

Compelling evidence Japan is doing it right with masks!

See how compelling the evidence is? If everyone just all wears masks, there are no surges, no increases, no future waves, it’s just a state of harmonious equilibrium.


June 8, 2020

Just a month later, ZME Science which covers “news and features from science, space, the environment and more,” published an article praising Japan’s mask usage in helping “avoid a coronavirus disaster.”

Here’s one of my favorite parts:

In the end, it was the common-sense measures that made all the difference: physical distancing, wearing masks, and hand hygiene. 

“Cluster surveillance has enabled us to ascertain what situations and places present a high risk. We have found out that wearing masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing and avoiding talking loudly are effective in preventing transmission.”

Got that? Masks, hand hygiene and distance. Made all the difference. That’s how they were able to prevent new infections. Common sense public health measures. Other countries should try them!

Ah! Yeah. Cases went up 14773% after that gem.

Let’s keep going!


June 12, 2020

The New York Times couldn’t be left out of the premature praise, publishing this headline: “Is the secret to Japan’s virus success right in front of its face?”

The article begins:

When the coronavirus arrived in Japan, people did what they normally do: They put on masks.

Face coverings are nothing new here. During flu and hay fever seasons, trains are crowded with commuters half-hidden behind white surgical masks.

As we know, masks had absolutely no impact on the flu, but The Times has never let reality get in the way of a good story…Masks work, especially when used as soon as the coronavirus arrives in your area!

Yeah.


June 22, 2020

Inevitably, whenever I post one of the literally hundreds or thousands of graphs from all over the world illustrating the utter failure of masks, a True Believer in The Religion of The Science™ will reply with some variation of “they only work if people wear them.” As absurd as that statement is, given overwhelming global compliance in the face of enormous societal pressure and state sanctioned punishment, we know that Japan could not credibly be accused of non-compliance.

Don’t believe me? Here’s what Forbes said in June 2020:

This high rate of mask use is evidenced both anecdotally by going around in Japan and by survey data as well. A June 11 poll conducted by the Japanese male aesthetic salon Gorilla Clinic and reported in the Jiji Press found that among 600 businessmen in their 20s to 50s surveyed, “more than 90% of the respondents answered that they would wear a mask this year.”

More than 90% compliance in June, and further surveys showed well over that rate later in 2020 and into 2021, as referenced on the charts here. They continued:

This has led to a great deal of hypothesizing, including by a governmental panel of experts, and increasingly supported by the rapidly accumulating body of research on the efficacy of face-covering in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, that the secret to Japan’s “success” – so far – has been in some significant part due to the widespread proliferation of mask-wearing.

Of course, the secret to preventing the spread of the coronavirus is due to mask-wearing, which has a rapidly accumulating body of research showing unbelievable efficacy!

Whoops.


June 30, 2020

This piece from The Philadelphia Inquirer and headlined: “Japan crushed COVID-19 by masking while Trump mocks masks,” is really a masterpiece.

Nevermind that the majority of countries throughout Europe and South America also failed to “crush” COVID-19 or that in June of 2020, the Australian state of Victoria — yes even the COVID-zero paradise of Australia — was in the middle of a dramatic increase in cases. It was all Trump’s fault.

Nevermind that masks completely failed during the 1918 flu, as even The Washington Post admitted, this Inquirer columnist knows the importance of putting politics before reality.

Aged like fine milk.


July 23, 2020

Naturally, it was Japan’s culture of mask wearing that allowed them to immediately accept the “medical experts” recommendations, according to KCRW’s “Press Play with Madeleine Brand”:

As a consequence, Japanese did not bat an eyelid when medical experts stated in the early weeks of the pandemic that wearing a mask would at least reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus. 

"Face masks have now reached the point where covering one's face is part of our culture and not something that anyone questions," she said.

Emphasis mine…Got that? NOT SOMETHING THAT ANYONE QUESTIONS. That’s why they were a COVID success story, unquestioning compliance.

Cases went up 1215% from July 23rd to the first peak in January, despite the culture and universal compliance.


October 14, 2020

At this point, you might be thinking to yourself…how could it get any worse than this? But that’s just because you haven’t yet seen this unbelievable nonsense from Deseret News. In an attempt to praise Utah’s partial statewide mask mandate, the writer hammered home the point that us plebes can never question masks because any sane, rational, intelligent human being knows they work. They just do. Want evidence? Too bad. Listen to the smart people, peasant:

The science journal Nature published a long report this month about the value of cloth masks. While a wide range of studies may seem confusing when you get into the weeds of how well they stop microscopic particles, one scientist, Jeremy Howard of the University of San Francisco, said, “You don’t have to do much math to say this is obviously a good idea.”

Or, as Rich Saunders, acting director of the Utah Department of Health, said at that press conference on Tuesday, “... if you take the politics out and you look at the science, masks just work. They’re not the save-all, they don’t do everything we need, but they work.”

Laughing yet? It makes your head spin, doesn’t it?

First of all, Jeremy Howard is definitively not a scientist in the terms used misleadingly in this incompetent article. He’s an “entrepreneur, business strategist, developer, and educator. He is a founding researcher at fast.ai, a research institute dedicated to making deep learning more accessible.” His “scientific” career is in data science and machine learning. He has no virology or immunology or epidemiological credentials (not that those credentials are particularly useful when discussing masks, as we’ve all seen). They’re appealing to the authority of someone who has no authority in the subject matter. He helped start an incompetent website and wrote some embarrassingly inaccurate “evidence reviews.” If he wasn’t telling The Religion what they wanted to hear, no one would ever care what he said.

Of course, Jeremy’s evidence free self-assurance is nothing compared to health directors like Rich Saunders, who weaponize their ignorance and cowardice to mindlessly repeat national expert propaganda. They “just work,” ok? How do we know they “just work?” Don’t ask, idiot. They just do. So let’s go to the data on how well they work!

Yeah, cases went up 1127% after the article claimed Japan had essentially beaten COVID.

Oh and for good measure, here’s Utah:

After that same health director said that the mask mandate for social gatherings would “make a difference,” it was so completely ineffective that they enhanced it less than a month later to cover additional settings, which was also completely ineffective. Oh, and of course lifting the mandate in April made no difference either, even though only 16% of Utah’s population was fully vaccinated at the time.


December 18, 2020

Yeah. You nailed it guys, masks were quintessential to keeping cases low in Japan. The link to the page describes them as being “instrumental in preventing outbreaks.”

In over eleven months, from January 3, 2020 to December 17, 2020, just before the Associated Press and New York Post published this headline and unbelievably hilarious story, Japan had seen a total of 187,103 COVID cases. From December 18th-July 2nd, 2021 or only seven and a half months, there have been an additional 614,618 cases recorded. Here’s how that looks visually:

You have to hand it to them, you really do. Absolutely instrumental in preventing outbreaks. Spectacular work.


And there’s much, much more. Much more than I could fit here. It’s endless. A love affair much stronger, deeper and more powerful than anything you or I will ever experience. This love is what dreams are made of. I said I wish I loved anything as much as those in media love writing articles praising Japan’s mask usage, but I know it’s not possible. Only the True Believers can achieve such purity of devotion and smug self-satisfaction as they publish stories meant to affirm their place within the cultural groupthink.

Obviously Japan’s cumulative COVID numbers, especially their mortality rates, have been significantly lower than most countries in Europe and the Americas. But it’s much more likely due to some combination of pre-existing T-cell cross immunity that helps lower severe outcomes, combined with a lack of testing. Mask wearing culture sure isn’t the reason. As we know, countries throughout Europe and the Americas have all tried masks, with near universal compliance in peak seasons, yet had much worse results.

Oh and just for the record and some perspective, Japan’s mortality rate of 12 per 100k is exactly the same as Cuba. Norway is 15 per 100k, despite some of the lowest mask wearing rates in the world. Japan’s higher than Venezuela and Pakistan and Iceland and Kenya and Sudan and Cameroon and Haiti and on and on and on. They rank 133rd in population adjusted COVID deaths, out of 222 countries tracked by Worldometers. Definitely above average, but nowhere near the best.

And what about their closest “neighbors,” since that’s an obsession among Twitter experts attempting to criticize Sweden? Well Taiwan’s death rate is 3 per 100k, Philippines is 23 per 100k, South Korea is 4 per 100k and Mainland China is supposedly (lol) <1 per 100k. Even the observed “case fatality rate” in Japan is 1.8%, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID tracker. Know what it is in the United States? 1.8%. Norway is 0.6%, despite very little mask usage. Sweden’s is 1.3%, with virtually no mask wearing.

So yeah! Japan’s been thoroughly average to below average among its closest “neighbors,” despite their cultural devotion to mask wearing and their unquestioning compliance. They’re better than average worldwide, but not close to the best. They failed to “control outbreaks” over the winter, even with the ubiquitous mask wearing, and are still seeing case numbers significantly higher than in summer 2020.

They received unending praise throughout most of 2020 from a media apparatus desperate to prove the experts right about masks, yet saw their trends completely reverse. Of course the trends reversed. They nearly always do. Because the experts weren’t right about masks. They don’t work.