Kansas senator says no one has 'convinced' him yet that masks work

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Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) continues to make false claims about the effectiveness of masks against COVID spread.

Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) on Tuesday said in a cable news interview that he's not "convinced" of the effectiveness of face masks at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, despite widespread evidence demonstrating that mask-wearing significantly reduces transmission of the virus.

"I'm against mandates. Really, no one has convinced me masks really work, especially for people that have already had the vaccine or natural immunity," Marshall told Newsmax TV Tuesday morning.

"The masks might give a little bit of protection to my parents, but I just think that we're kidding ourselves if we think kids wearing masks helps. It probably even makes it worse," Marshall added.

Before being elected to Congress, Marshall worked as an obstetrician-gynecologist. The biography section of his official Senate website says his work as a physician has given him a "a deep appreciation and passion for the sanctity of life and an intimate understanding of the healthcare system."

Despite Marshall's claims, numerous peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated that face masks effectively slow the spread of the coronavirus. A review of such studies published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences in early 2021 found that the "preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces transmissibility." The team of scientists and physicians who conducted the review wrote, "We recommend that public officials and governments strongly encourage the use of widespread face masks in public, including the use of appropriate regulation."

Marshall's suggestion that masks are ineffective for those who are vaccinated against COVID or were previously infected with the virus is unsupported by evidence.

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that even vaccinated people are capable of spreading the virus, particularly given the high transmissibility of the delta variant. These data were part of what ultimately led the CDC to again recommend mask-wearing in late July in areas of substantial or high transmission of the virus.

Moreover, Marshall's claim that requiring children to wear masks would make things "worse" is false.

The CDC says, "Research supports that mask wearing has no significant adverse health effects for wearers. Studies of healthy hospital workers, older adults, and adults with COPD reported no change in oxygen or carbon dioxide levels while wearing a cloth or surgical mask either during rest or physical activity. ... Additionally, no oxygen desaturation or respiratory distress was observed among children less than 2 years of age when masked during normal play."

A study published in the journal Pediatrics and promoted by conservative media that claimed to have found evidence for increased carbon dioxide levels in children who wore masks was later retracted due to "numerous scientific issues."

Marshall's remarks on Tuesday are the latest in a pattern of comments criticizing masking or otherwise sharing misinformation about the pandemic.

After the CDC updated its masking guidelines, Marshall released a statement on July 27 claiming that the "science does not support a new mask mandate if you've been vaccinated or if you've had the virus." The statement also said, "With news of the delta variant, now is this time to talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated if you haven't yet."

Marshall co-sponsored a bill introduced in the Senate on July 14 that would prohibit mask mandates on public transportation.

Last year, Facebook removed a post from Marshall's account that falsely claimed the CDC had overcounted the number of COVID-19-related deaths. In fact, some experts estimate the number of deaths has been undercounted by as much as 57%.

Asked about Marshall's opinion on masking given his past comments and the widespread evidence of masks' effectiveness, a spokesperson for the senator provided a copy of Marshall's July 27 statement.

Marshall is not the only GOP lawmaker relying on his physician credentials as he pushes back against public health measures. In a Fox News interview last week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), an ophthalmologist, suggested that masks were ineffective at slowing the spread of disease.

"The more mandates we got, the more of the disease we got," Paul said. "I don't think the mask caused the disease, but I don't think the mask helped any."

Meanwhile, as the Republican lawmakers use their platforms to advocate against public health measures, COVID-19 cases have continued to climb in recent weeks.

In Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has ordered schools not to mandate masks and threatened to retaliate against those that do, hospitalizations have risen to the point where bed space is now severely limited. Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who banned schools and local governments from mandating masks, is now asking hospitals to delay nonessential procedures to free up space for COVID patients.

The anti-science rhetoric from many in the GOP has spurred some doctors to take direct political action in response: A number of physician candidates have launched campaigns on a pro-public health platform.

Barbara Bollier, a doctor and former Kansas state senator who unsuccessfully ran against Marshall in 2020 for the open Senate seat vacated by Republican Pat Roberts, told the Washington Post during the campaign, "I cannot understand why a virus is being politicized. It is public health, period."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.