It has been two years since the beginning of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. School closures and mask mandates are still everywhere, despite more and more data showing that they don’t work at all [1,3,5,6,25,26,31,34,35]. Experts have urged governments to keep schools open and are opposed to booster mandates and mask mandates [2,3,4,13,14,15,21,45]. However, in the United States, serious scientists who are opposed to those mandates are often labeled as “Trump supporters,” “anti-vaccine,” “reckless” and “conservative.” They were silenced and maliciously attacked by the government . Their Wikipedia pages were falsely edited to mislead readers .
This level of hysteria reminds me of China’s Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. During the Cultural Revolution, factory workers, farmers and even middle school students had a common hobby: criticizing general relativity . General relativity was considered capitalism and “counterrevolutionary” (I know you are confused, but this word “反革命” does not make any sense in Chinese, either). Of course, none of them knew what relativity is. Universities were effectively shut down for ten years. Many scientists were beaten to death by Red Guards. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was considered “determinism.” A “red book” was carried by everyone to show loyalty to the government [36,37]. You don’t have a red book? I am sorry, you are a counterrevolutionist. Even in recent days, Chinese people are still haunted by this madness. In 2001, quantum mechanics was used to prove the correctness of the Communist Party’s ideology .
Herd immunity is probably the most misunderstood word during the pandemic. Here, I am going to restate what Professor Sunetra Gupta, an Oxford epidemiology professor, has said [17,18,21]. When a new disease emerges, it ravages through the whole population because there is no immunity. But infection and vaccination will build herd immunity and eventually the pandemic will become endemic. An endemic state is not the same as a zero-case state. It simply means the rate of immunity (from vaccination or infection) loss equals the rate of infection. A zero-case state will never happen, at least in our lifetime. Herd immunity has been misinterpreted as a “let-it-rip strategy” by many people.
The reality is, herd immunity is something that exists and will be reached no matter what we do. This is a scientific fact. The question is, how do we get there safely and ethically? The most ideal way is to build immunity via effective vaccination. By effective, I mean vaccination that can stop the transmission in the long term. Unfortunately, we do not have such a vaccine. Even before the Omicron variant, the best vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) were known to be effective at blocking the virus for less than 6 months [1,6]. Their effectiveness in preventing serious illnesses lasts longer, but this has nothing to do with herd immunity. Eventually, a certain amount of people will be infected no matter what we do. We also knew that natural immunity is stronger and lasts longer than vaccine-induced immunity since July 2021 . Unfortunately, the CDC demonized natural immunity and refused to acknowledge its durability until January 2022. And when it did acknowledge that, enormous confusion was caused among the American people.
If vaccines do not help in building herd immunity in the long run, what else can we do? Obviously, boosting the whole population every six months is not feasible. The more mandatory shots there are, the less likely people are going to comply. In addition, some experts have said taking booster shots too often can be harmful . Luckily, the death rate and possibility of long COVID symptoms are extremely low for young and healthy people .
From January 2020 to January 2022, only around 6,000 people aged 0-29 in the United States have died from Covid-19. It is lower than that of homicide in normal years. For people aged 0-17, only 700 have died of the disease in the past two years. In addition, studies have shown that children COVID hospitalizations are significantly overestimated . If more young people get infected, less old people will be infected. According to experts, this will result in less deaths . You may or may not support a policy that encourages young people to get infected. But you definitely should not prefer a policy that encourages young people to stay at home (unless you think older people should be used as shields because they have lived longer). Unfortunately, such a policy is exactly what the U.S. government imposed in 2020. Schools were closed. Vulnerable people were not protected. Cases and deaths soared to the sky right after the lockdowns were lifted.
Since the herd immunity threshold will be reached regardless of what we do, why should we have lockdowns and vaccine mandates? There is a good reason, which is to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. However, lockdown has harmful effects. It hurts poor people, since it forces those people who have to work in person to get infected first. It hurts young students since virtual learning means cheating in exams, playing video games during lectures and catastrophic mental health issues. It reduces or delays regular medical screening, which causes death. According to the United Nations, over 220,000 children in south Asia have died (directly or indirectly) to COVID responses .
In October 2020, Martin Kulldorff (Professor of Medicine at Harvard), Sunetra Gupta (Professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford) and Jay Bhattacharya (Professor of medicine at Stanford) published the Great Barrington Declaration . It urged governments to end lockdowns and protect vulnerable people. The NIH director Francis Collins wrote an email to NIAID director Anthony Fauci and said, “This proposal from the three fringe epidemiologists . . . seems to be getting a lot of attention – and even a co-signature from Nobel Prize winner Mike Leavitt at Stanford. There needs to be a quick and devastating published take down (sic) of its premises. Is it underway?” 
In a December 2021 TV interview, Collins admitted that the email is real . Not surprisingly, the declaration immediately drew criticism and was given a nickname: “let-it-rip.” The New York Times often puts quote marks on the term herd immunity and falsely claims that those scientists “rely on” herd immunity . Herd immunity suddenly went the same way general relativity did during the Cultural Revolution . American people started to criticize a strategy that does not even exist: “herd immunity strategy.” The facts are, the three scientists are not “fringe scientists,” they don’t rely on herd immunity; herd immunity is an inevitable equilibrium state and the real name of their strategy is focused protection, which aims to minimize death. Countless experts have signed on the Declaration . Many governments have since adopted what the Declaration proposed.
Of course, politicians, from both left and right, were not hurt by lockdowns. Democratic Party leader Nancy Pelosi went to a hair salon during the lockdown . Several Republican senators sold stocks right before the lockdown measures were announced .
What about vaccine mandates? I have mentioned that the protection against infection only lasts for a short amount of time. Furthermore, most people in this world will eventually get infected. Is it still meaningful to have vaccine mandates to reduce hospital capacity?
The first thing you need to know is vaccines have risks [28,29]. The risks are small, but a rational approach is to compare the risk of side effects to the risk of Covid. In April 2021, there were reports that the J&J vaccine has noticeable side effects. Professor Kulldorff, then a member of the FDA advisory panel and the person who developed the vaccine safety system used by the FDA, recommended to keep distributing the vaccine to elderly people since the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. This is an example of balancing risks and benefits. The FDA then fired Kulldorff and suspended the J&J vaccine. It didn’t take very long until the FDA reinstated the vaccine , but professor Kulldorff was never hired back.
Ironically, Martin Kulldorff and other scientists who look at data rationally were labeled by some media as “anti-vaccine.”  On September 17, 2021, the FDA advisory panel overwhelmingly voted against the use of Covid booster shots on the general population . They recommended boosting only those who are vulnerable. However, the Biden administration bypassed experts’ opinion and recommended booster shots to all adults. Now, it is pushing booster shots to 12-year-olds.
Thinking a 12-year-old kid should be vaccinated in order to take the subway or go to restaurants is an insult to human intelligence. Recall that the risk of dying to Covid-19 for a young kid is almost zero. Therefore, we do not even need to consider personal preferences, freedom and philosophy, because there is almost zero benefit for them to take the vaccine. Not to mention that there are risks. Just like we should not prescribe feces or human flesh to cure diseases , this argument does not involve freedom of choice. It can’t even survive the test of basic logic.
Vaccines do not stop transmission in the long run. You may or may not agree that vaccines should be mandatory for vulnerable people. I can understand both sides. Other than that, no further discussion is meaningful.
In early 2020, the WHO posted a guideline saying that wearing a mask to prevent Covid-19 is not recommended . But it changed the guideline very quickly for political reasons. Most countries followed the new WHO guideline. Even before Covid-19, we knew that cloth masks are useless in preventing respiratory diseases, and the effectiveness of surgical masks is small. However, during the Covid pandemic, countless lies have been told. The CDC and NIAID recommended wearing masks to slow the spread of Covid.
They cited flawed studies to support their mask recommendation. In a preprint paper (now peer-reviewed and it is the only RCT study ever done) posted in August 2021, cloth masks were shown to be completely useless, while the effectiveness of surgical masks is limited . To be rigorous, the paper says the statistical significance of cloth masks depends on some condition. But this conclusion is interpreted by experts as “no effect” [2,3]. There is no reliable data on N95 masks. Yet the CDC and NIAID continued to spread the lie that masks work, without mentioning the type of mask. On November 5th, 2021, the director of CDC posted a video on Twitter saying, with a typical tone used by those CNN broadcasters and so confidently as if she was stating her name and date of birth, that masks reduce Covid infections by more than 80% . It immediately backfired since not a single study supports this unbelievable number.
In January 2022, the CDC finally indirectly acknowledged that cloth masks are useless. However, it continues to recommend wearing a mask. You may or may not think that an N95 mask mandate should be imposed to reduce hospital capacity. But given how uncomfortable the mask is, how expensive the mask is, how easy it is to “cheat” and how many fake masks there are, this policy is not feasible. And surely an N95 mask mandate would gain significantly less support from voters.
The recommendation from the CDC is the main reason why there are mask mandates in elementary schools. Since wearing cloth and surgical masks are futile, the only option left is to wear an N95 mask. If you haven’t tried a real N95 mask, you should buy one and wear it correctly for 30 minutes and see how it feels. Let me put this straight. Putting N95 masks on children is child abuse.
At the end of the day, why do we have mask mandates for kids at all? They have no risk and they will be infected sooner or later. Well, I don’t know the answer. You may argue that it is to reduce infection among teachers. However, social interactions are important to children. I personally don’t like the idea of using children as shields to achieve something that has a negligible benefit. I have seen someone similar and I don’t like him. His name was Osama bin Laden.
I can certainly understand that some people may want to wear an N95 mask all day and reduce contact, in order to avoid being quarantined. I can also understand that some people may want to do anything, even if futile, to protect their loved ones. I have seen several people in those situations. Those make sense. But mandating masks on others does not.
Data says all
A way to investigate the effectiveness of Covid restrictions is to look at excess death, which compares the total death of all causes to the average death in pre-Covid years. Lockdowns have harms and (limited) benefits. They cause many consequences. To see which effect is larger, we can look at excess death. But keep in mind, the learning loss, economic damage, mental health issues, and reduced medical screening (which all lead to excess death in the future) caused by lockdowns and pain caused by hospitalization are not included in this number.
Sweden did not have a mask mandate and forced lockdowns (it did recommend people to reduce contact) and it has shockingly low excess death per capita [25,26]. Only recently, it imposed a mask mandate on public transportation. Meanwhile the U.S. and U.K. have miserable numbers despite all those futile lockdowns and mask mandates.
Another way to investigate the effectiveness of restrictions is to look at age-adjusted Covid deaths. Why do we need the age-adjusted number? Because as I mentioned before, the risk of dying to Covid is much higher for elderly people. Obesity and other health issues do contribute to the risk, but the largest risk is age. Therefore, countries or states that have larger average age, for example, Sweden and Florida, should expect more Covid deaths. This is not policymakers’ fault. It is simply the cruelty of nature. Age adjustment considers this factor. After age adjustment, Covid death per 100,000 population in Florida is significantly lower than that of New York, which has closed schools for a long time and has strict mandates, including vaccine mandates in restaurants. Readers may want to take a look at this detailed chart and play around with it.
America’s Cultural Revolution
During the Cultural Revolution, scientists were officially ranked “inferior” (臭老九). Everyone in China thought he/she was smart enough to judge scientific issues. I saw the same in the U.S. during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. I have talked to many people. But for most of them, when I mentioned professor Sunetra Gupta or Martin Kulldorff or other real epidemiologists, they often immediately argue that those professors don’t know what they are talking about. They often feel angry and offended when hearing the term herd immunity or natural immunity. They accused those professors as Trump’s loyal supporters without carefully reading anything.
One of them, an Ivy League physics PhD student, argued that epidemiology is not real science (I think the accurate word he should have used was “counterrevolutionary”). Another person left a Messenger group chat immediately after I said the Moderna vaccine has noticeable side effects and was partially banned by Sweden and Denmark. Another person even physically assaulted me. In October 2020, presidential candidate Joe Biden said on TV that wearing a mask is a patriotic duty .
Those were exactly what happened in the Cultural Revolution. Luckily, among all those people I have talked to, there was one person who raised meaningful concerns. She asked me if one epidemiologist (she was referring to Kulldorff’s opinion on masks) can represent the whole science community. I remember my answer to her was the same can be asked of pro-mask scientists and most experts do agree that cloth masks are useless.
Surely, experts could be wrong. But, by definition, they are the ones who are doing research on Covid and related topics. They are our best shot. Who else should we trust? The president of the United States, who doesn’t even have a STEM degree? Or the CDC, which repeatedly and intentionally lied to the public? Or the FDA, which acted against its own advisory panel’s overwhelming vote? Or the WHO, which changed its guidelines for no scientific reason? Or news agencies, which have been feasting on the American people’s stupidity for many years?
The Cultural Revolution was initiated by Mao Zedong as an attempt to regain political power. It ended when Mao died in 1976. The American one has a much more complicated background. You may or may not agree that the Democratic Party initiated this to gain power and Trump’s historical anti-science actions fueled it. But I think it is unfair to attribute everything to them. News agencies like CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times and Fox News are also part of the problem. Those agencies have a large audience base and have turned news reporting to video games, in which people feel the need to play it every day and feel good about themselves.
This reminds me of a letter written by the great composer Frederic Chopin. In the letter, he described how those stupid and rich people felt the need to go to concerts because it was “high-end” activity . They didn’t even care if the music was good. They just “must” listen. It has been 180 years since the letter was written. Humans don’t change.
Nowadays, people must read those “news” to have the illusion that the other half of the country is stupider than them. But the reality is, science is often complicated and doesn’t care about political affiliation. When those “news” criticized Sweden’s and Florida’s Covid responses based on short-term death count without age-adjustment, surely their audience wouldn’t be able to point out the flaws. When they reminded the audience that the governor of Florida is a Trump supporter, that was enough to convince the audience that Florida’s Covid response is a failure.
Did they forget Sweden is a progressive country? No, don’t worry. When Sweden does something they like, this fact will magically return to their memories. As someone who self-identified as center-left before the pandemic, I must say that I don’t consider the American cultural revolution as “progressive”.
When will the American cultural revolution end? I hope it will not take too long. China learned an important lesson from the Cultural Revolution: respect and listen to experts, not politicians. It seems the American people have yet to learn that. But one thing is true: China just won an important war. They have successfully shown that cultural revolution can happen in the “best” country in the world. And more importantly, having freedom of the press doesn’t mean people are going to read real news. If we truly believe in freedom and democracy, rationality must be restored.
I thank B.F., J.C. and Jeffrey Tucker for helpful discussions.