FACT CHECK: Did A Stanford University Study Find That Masks Are Ineffective And Cause Serious Adverse Health Effects?

Elias Atienza | Senior Reporter

An image shared on Facebook claims a Stanford University study found masks are “ineffective to block transmission” of COVID-19 and cause serious negative health effects.

Verdict: False

The paper and its author have no current affiliation with Stanford or the Veteran Affairs Palo Alto Health System, according to a university spokesperson. The paper repeats false claims about the health effects of mask-wearing.

Fact Check: 

The image shows a screen grab of an article from the conservative website Gateway Pundit that puts up the headline “Stanford Study Results: Facemasks are Ineffective to Block Transmission of COVID-19 and Actually Can Cause Health Deterioration and Premature Death.” The Gateway Pundit article references another website, NOQ Report, which talks about a paper that was published by the journal “Medical Hypotheses” in November 2020.

The paper, titled “Facemasks in the COVID-19 era: A health hypothesis,” alleges, among other things, that face masks are “ineffective to reduce human-to-human transmission” of COVID-19 and cause negative health effects such as hypoxemia and hypercapnia. The author, Baruch Vainshelboim, is listed as being affiliated with the “Cardiology Division, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System/Stanford University.”

However, a Stanford spokesperson told Check Your Fact the paper and its author have no affiliation with the university or the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health System. The journal “Medical Hypotheses” publishes “interesting theoretical papers” and, according to the information and analytics company Elsevier, is not a journal “for primary data (except when preliminary data is used to lend support to the main hypothesis presented).”

“A study on the efficacy of face masks against COVID-19 published in the November 2020 issue of the journal Medical Hypotheses is not a ‘Stanford study.’ The author’s affiliation is inaccurately attributed to Stanford, and we have requested a correction,” Julie Greicius, senior director of external communications for Stanford’s School of Medicine, said in an email. “The author, Baruch Vainshelboim, had no affiliation with the VA Palo Alto Health System or Stanford at the time of publication and has not had any affiliation since 2016, when his one-year term as a visiting scholar on matters unrelated to this paper ended.”

Vainshelboim’s LinkedIn page describes him as a “clinical exercise physiologist” and does not list a current employer. He does not appear on Stanford University’s website beyond a statement addressing the paper’s affiliation. (RELATED: Viral Post Claims Face Masks Are ‘No Longer Mandatory’ In Ohio)

The paper also makes false claims about face masks that have been previously debunked by fact-checkers. Check Your Fact has debunked allegations related to masks causing hypercapnia (when there is too much carbon dioxide in the blood), pleurisy (when tissue layers lining the lungs become inflamed) and fungal lung infections. Other fact-checkers, including FactCheck.org and USA Today, have found claims that masks cause dangerously low oxygen levels to be false.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people wear masks “in public settings, at events and gatherings, and anywhere they will be around other people.” A March 2021 CDC study found that mask mandates are associated with a decrease in daily COVID-19 case numbers and death growth rates. A CDC spokesperson told Check Your Fact in March that “widespread use of masks is a very effective way to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

“Stanford Medicine strongly supports the use of face masks to control the spread of COVID-19,” Greicius also reiterated in her email to Check Your Fact.

Elias Atienza

Senior Reporter
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