Ty Bollinger Unmasked


Stephen Barrett, M.D.
June 3, 2020

Ty Bollinger, who operates TheTruthAboutCancer Web and Facebook page, advises people not to wear face masks to protect against COVID-19. This article explains why I believe he should be ignored.

The main way that COVID-19 infections spread from one person to another is  through saliva droplets or aerosols expelled when an infected person breathes, talks, sings, coughs, or sneezes. Saliva droplets are heavier than air and will settle on the ground or nearby surfaces. Aerosols form when smaller droplets evaporate faster than they fall to the ground, leaving virus particles to float through the air. COVID-19 transmission can occur if viral particles land in the mouth or nose of nearby people or are inhaled into their lungs. Spread is more likely when people are close to each other (within about 6 feet). Masks can reduce the spread [1]. Having more than one mask is a good idea so you can have a clean one available each time you go out [2].

The virus can also be transmitted by touching the nose or mouth after contact with a contaminated surface. That’s why washing your hands is recommended.

How Masks Work (Real Facts)

Protection by masks depends on the type of mask and how it is worn. Respirator masks must meet U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health N95 classification of air filtration by catching at least 95% of airborne particles. When tightly fitted so that inhaled and exhaled air go through them, rather than around them, N95 masks provide considerable protection to both the wearer and others in the vicinity. Surgical masks, dust masks, and home-made masks provide much less filtering of inhaled air but can prevent wearers from touching their face with hands that may be contaminated. As observed in a recent experiment [3], they can also prevent or reduce transmission:

This picture, from the journal Science, sums up what cloth masks can do:

In March, when the incidence of COVID-19 was rapidly rising, public health officials urged people not to try to buy N95 masks because front-line health-care workers needed them more. In April, however, when it became clear that COVID-19 could be spread by infected people without symptoms [4], the U,.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its recommendation this way:

We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.  In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission [5].

A subsequent study found that masks made from combinations of commonly available fabrics, if properly fitted, could provide considerable protection against the transmission of aerosol particles [6]. Epidemiological data also show that places that implemented universal masking policies did better than those that did not [7].

Bollinger’s “Facts”

The key question about any public health measure is whether it  is likely to do more good than harm. Bollinger would like you to believe that wearing a cloth face mask is more likely to cause harm.

On May 29, 2020, Bollinger’s Truth about Cancer Web site published what he called “12 FACTS that we KNOW” about masks and said that wearing a mask to protect against coronavirus infection is like “installing a screen door in a submarine.” He also said that “forcing healthy people to wear masks is “at best misguided and at worst criminal, given the known data.” [8]

Each of his alleged “FACTS” is followed by one or more links to reports or videoclips that supposedly back them up. Checking, however, I found that none of the linked materials actually validated what he said. In fact, most of the references he cites have have nothing whatsoever to do with the use of cloth face masks.

On March 8, 2020, Anthony Fauci, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said this during an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”:

The masks are important for someone who is infected to prevent them from infecting someone else. . . . Right now, in the United States, people should not be walking around with masks. . . . When you’re in the middle of an outbreak, wearing a mask might make people feel a little bit better and it might even block a droplet, but it’s not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is. Often there are unintended consequences—people keep fiddling with the mask and touching their face. . . .  When you think of masks, you should think of healthcare providers needing them and people who are ill. . . . When you look at the films of foreign countries and see 85% of the people wearing them—that’s fine. I’m not against it. [But} it could lead to a shortage of masks for the people who really need it.

This was not an anti-mask message.  It was about reserving N95 masks for health-care workers. But Bollinger’s “Fact 9” eliminated the highlighted portions and titled the video clip “Dr. Fauci now says no masks . . .” 

Dr. Fauci at Coronavirus Task Force presentation on May 15, 2020

Bollinger’s “Fact 10” links to a similar message in early March from U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, M.D, about the need to reserve N95 masks for health-care workers. Since early April, Drs. Fauci and Abrams have been recommending that cloth masks be used when leaving home for essential errands. (The picture to the right shows Dr. Fauci wearing a mask at a White House  Coronavirus Task Force presentation on May 15 Presenting these outdated video clips out of context is dishonest [9]. I am pleased to report that on May 9th, after learning about the misrepresentation, CBS blocked further viewing.

Bollinger in Further Context

Bollinger’s Web sites describe him this way:

Ty Bollinger is a happily married husband, the father of four wonderful children, devoted Christian, best-selling author, medical researcher, talk radio host, health freedom advocate, former competitive bodybuilder and also a certified public accountant. After losing several family members to cancer (including his mother and father), Ty refused to accept the notion that chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery were the most effective treatments available for cancer patients. He began a quest to learn all he possibly could about alternative cancer treatments and the medical industry. Ty has now made it his life mission to share the most remarkable discovery he made on his quest: the vast majority of all diseases (including cancer) can be easily prevented and even cured without drugs or surgery. Ty speaks frequently to health groups, at seminars, expos, conferences, churches, and is a regular guest on multiple radio shows and writes for numerous magazines and websites. Speaking from personal experience and extensive research, Ty has touched the hearts and changed the lives of thousands of people around the world [10].

Put another way, even though he has no relevant educational background, Bollinger would like you to believe that talking with offbeat practitioners and their patients, has made him smarter than all of the world’s medical and scientific experts put together. Just buy his reports—and buy into his conspiracy theories—and you can be just as smart.

Real experts, of course, give him low marks for credibility. Drs. Harriet Hall, William M. London and David Gorski have dissected and debunked dozens of his cancer-related claims [11-13]. NewsGuard, which rates news and information Web sites, has concluded that The Truth about Cancer site and Facebook pages repeatedly promote “unproven and potentially dangerous cancer treatments” and “egregiously false content about COVID-19.” [14]

Bollinger concerns me because his advice about masks can kill people and a lot of people seem to pay attention to him. In March 2020, the Facebook page was reported to have more than 1.1 million followers. In addition to criticizing masks, he is spreading false information to discourage use of a COVID-19 vaccine when one is developed.

The Bottom Line

Cloth masks should be worn to protect people around you if you are infected but do not have symptoms. They will reduce the spread of COVID-19 virus and make communities safer. Wearing one is a sign of strength, good judgement, and good citizenship.

References
  1. Huang S. COVID-19: Why we should all wear face masks—there is new scientific rationale. Medium.com Web site, March 26, 2020.
  2. Maragakis LL. Coronavirus: How to care for your face mask. Johns Hopkins Medicine Web site,  May 1, 2020.
  3. Anfinrud P and others. Visualizing speech-generated oral fluid droplets with laser light screening. New England Journal of Medicine 382:2061-2013, 2020.
  4. He X and others. Temporal dynamics in viral shedding and transmissibility of COVID-19. Nature Medicine 26:672-675, 2020.
  5. Recommendations regarding the use of cloth face coverings, Especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. CDC announcement, April 3, 2020.
  6. Konda A and others. Aerosol filtration efficiency of common fabrics used in respiratory cloth mask. ACS Nano 14:6339-6347, 2020.
  7. Prather KA and others. Reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Science, May 27, 2020.
  8. Bollinger T. “To Mask or NOT to mask?” . . . THAT is the question! The Truth about Cancer Web site, May 29, 2020.
  9. Spencer SH. Outdated Fauci video on face masks shared out of context. FactCheck.org, May 9, 2020.
  10. About Ty Bollinger. The Truth About Cancer home page, accessed June 2, 2020.
  11. Hall H. “The Truth About Cancer” series is untruthful about cancer.” Science-Based Medicinem Nov 17, 2015.
  12. London WM. Untruths about cancer in the failed “quest for cures.” Six-part series, James Randi Educational Foundation, Nov/Dec 2014.
  13. Gorski D. How can we combat misinformation from “chemo truthers”? Science-Based Medicine, January 27, 2020.
  14. thetruthaboutcancer.com. NewsGuard. March 11, 2020. (Viewing this requires installing a free NewsGuard browser extenstion.)