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Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer stands by mask comments, cites sources that that include retracted studies, banned outlets

After saying masks don't provide much protection - contrary to CDC guidelines - Mayor Bobby Dyer says COVID-19 vaccinations are vital and masks could deter progress

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer is backing up his controversial comments on masks and COVID-19, a week after saying "masks really don't give much protection" during a city council meeting.

"What happens is when you come out and have a contrary opinion, you’re kind of demonized, and we have to have the conversation because conversations have been all over the place," Mayor Dyer said in an interview with 13News Now on Tuesday.

Instead, Mayor Dyer said he encourages people to get vaccinated and believes recommending masks as a public health measure could be a deterrent to that progress.

"I got vaccinated, and so if folks saw me wearing a mask they’re going to say why should I get vaccinated if I’m going to have to wear a mask anyway, we’re at the point now we have to show people we’re moving forward," Dyer said. "What we need right now is solutions and that is shots in arms."

The Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, American Medical Association, Virginia Department of Health, and other medical experts and organizations recommend masks as a preventative measure to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

The CDC says unvaccinated individuals should wear masks in indoor public places and fully vaccinated individuals should consider wearing masks in crowded areas to maximize protection from the Delta variant.

Dyer said he believes masks are ineffective based on decades of experience as a practicing physical therapist who had training in infection control.

"I'm not in any way telling people not to wear a mask if they feel uncomfortable," Dyer said. "I realize I'm a focus group of one but I've been in this business for a while... I've got to get people not only physically healthy but mentally healthy as well."

In response to questions from 13News Now, Mayor Dyer shared articles and links to studies to support his claims. 

Among the initial group of four articles, two of the studies had been retracted by publishers for unreliable information, and another source had been banned from platforms like YouTube and Facebook for consistently sharing COVID-19 misinformation.

When asked why he trusts these sources, Mayor Dyer told us his views aren't limited to these reports.

"There are many other sources that confirm it too, that is just a couple [of articles] that I found off the bat, there’s been misinformation on both sides with regard to [masking]," he said.

The first article sent by Dyer, from far-right, ultraconservative organization LifeSiteNews, alleged to cite more than 70 studies that prove "ineffectiveness of masks" and "negative health effects."

LifeSiteNews has been banned from Facebook and YouTube for posting COVID-19 misinformation. 

Numerous links to studies in the article are used to show "ineffectiveness" when the studies produced no conclusive findings. Other studies are decades old and findings are being misapplied.

The second link shared by Dyer is an article from the Foundation for Economic Education referencing a study that "casts more doubt on effectiveness" of masks.

The South Korean study referenced in the article was retracted by a journal's editors after publication due to issues with the reliability of its findings.

A third article shared by Dyer - a post from a Wisconsin radio station referencing a "Stanford study" that proves masks are "ineffective at blocking transmission of COVID" - refers to another study that was retracted after publication. 

The study was initially published in Medical Hypotheses, a journal that describes itself as a forum to publish "interesting theoretical papers" with "radical, speculative and non-mainstream scientific ideas."

After review, the journal's editorial committee said the study included unverified data, speculative statements and misleading information.

The editors wrote: "A broader review of existing scientific evidence clearly shows that approved masks with correct certification, and worn in compliance with guidelines, are an effective prevention of COVID-19 transmission."

Additionally, Stanford Medicine responded to the characterization of the study as a 'Stanford Study,' saying the author of the study had not been affiliated with Stanford since 2016 when his one-year term as a visiting scholar ended. 

Stanford said the study was not connected with the university and it "strongly supports the use of face masks to control the spread of COVID-19."

A fourth article sent by Dyer, also published by the conservative think tank Foundation for Economic Education, referred to a Danish study on masks not protecting wearers from COVID infection.

The article does link to a New York Times report which points out the study did not test for the ability of masks to prevent the spread of the virus from infected wearers to others - a primary function of masking.

The Danish study didn't find a statistically significant effect of COVID-19 prevention for non-infected mask wearers, however, it was designed to only detect a large effect of 50% or more. It also relied on users self-reporting their own test results and behaviors.

Lastly, Mayor Dyer provided a Washington Examiner article that cites the release of Dr. Anthony Fauci's emails from February 2020, before COVID-19 started rapidly spreading in the United States.

The emails were released in response to public information requests from Buzzfeed News and the Washington Post. Dr. Fauci wrote that masks are more effective at preventing infected people from spreading the virus as opposed to uninfected people from acquiring infection.

Public health studies during the pandemic have since led to the CDC releasing updated guidelines and information about the benefits of masking for all wearers, to which Dr. Fauci has modified his recommendations.

Dr. Bogdan Neughebauer, an Infectious Disease Physician for Sentara Healthcare, told 13News Now there are shades of gray among the masking conversation, including varying effectiveness among different types of masks and if masks are properly worn or fitted.

However, he said masks by definition reduce the respiratory cloud and transmission range of an infection, decreasing the amount of virus that an infected person is spreading around themselves.

“Masks will offer you a better chance from spreading the infection or getting the infection when compared to no mask at all," Dr. Neughebauer said.

He said masks are effective in context, and recent studies show positive signs.

"If you wear a mask and are not infected there are multiple studies showing the chance of you developing an infection is significantly decreased," he said.

Dyer told 13News Now different types of masks can be "somewhat effective" in certain settings, but he's moved away from encouraging them as he did earlier in the pandemic.

"I will never tell somebody they should not wear a mask, but I’m just saying...get the shot and you can put the mask aside," Dyer said. "Then you've got a win-win situation, let's put the politics out of this and do what's right."