15.1.2021coronaviruses, civilian crisis management, covid-19, epidemics, pandemics, political decision making, protecting oneself, masks

Why were facemasks not recom­men­ded despite their benefits? (2021)

Call for Reviews 4

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Analysis of the medical, political, administrative, and cultural argumentation lines in the context of COVID-19


Ali Harlin, TkT

https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9226-5991 https://isni.org/isni/0000000481145200

Pasi Malmi, HTT, vastaava kirjoittaja https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2303-417X https://isni.org/isni/0000000065081586

Vesa Kirjavainen, FM https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6664-8406

Marja Rissanen, TkT https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5466-7543 https://isni.org/isni/0000000484880219

Thomas Brand, MSocSc, MA https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4559-1153

3rd Edition (Updated)

Published in series Call for Reviews, ISSN 2736-9404

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Keywords General Finnish ontology YSO:

coronaviruses ; civilian crisis management ; COVID-19 ; epidemics

pandemics ; political decision making ; protecting oneself

Keywords MESH:

Personal Protective Equipment ; Masks


The first part of the report contains a review of existing medical literature concerning the filtration capacity, benefits, and disadvantages of facemasks. It shows that the benefits of facemasks have been verified in dozens of filtration studies, aerosol simulations, population level simulations, country specific mortality statistics, observational studies, and RCT studies. The health risks related to facemasks are minor, and the ecological and economic costs of facemasks may be minimized by the reuse of masks.

The latter part of the report focuses on analyzing those discourses, paradigms and memes that lead to mask-sceptic statements in healthcare institutions like FDA, CDC, Surgeon General, ECDC and the Finnish ministry of health (STM), to distribute highly skeptical and sometimes even fallacious statements about facemasks. The consequence of these statements was that some schools and grocery store chains in Finland prohibited facemask usage from their employees in the summer 2020.

The central reasons for the exaggerated statements and actions against facemasks were found to be the political argument “we do not have enough masks for healthcare professionals”, the bureaucratic discourse, discourses of healthcare regulation, exaggerated forms of evidence-based medicine, and the culturally conservative discourses that discouraged Western countries to learn from Asian countries. The analysis of these discourses was performed by using memetic discourse analysis as its method. At the end, the authors give their suggestions to healthcare bureaucracies, concerning the best decision-making and communication practices for the times of crisis, uncertainty, and lack of time.

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Harlin et al. 2021

Professori Ali Harlin, D.Sc. (tech.)

Pasi Malmi, D.Sc. (admin)

Vesa Kirjavainen, M.Sc.

Marja Rissanen, D.Sc. (tech)

Thomas Brand, M.Sc. (politics), B.Sc. (tech.)