The doctor who headed the Rhode Island Department of Health and recommended mask mandates be imposed during the pandemic was unaware of recent studies that indicate masking is not effective and that children are not major drivers of COVID-19 transmission.
"We did what we said we would do: we looked for scientific literature that supported this finding," McDonald said.
"We have an open mind. We looked at all medical journals. I was open to anything I could find," McDonald said, adding that he was "constantly" reviewing new articles in journals.
But when McDonald was questioned about whether he was aware of recent research on masking, he said he was not.
"These are studies you're talking about that are, seem to be in really poorly known journals. I guess I'm not familiar with these poorly known journals," McDonald said.
"Well, can you give me one study that you've looked at that studied the efficacy of masks in schools since November of last year?" Gregory Piccirilli, representing a group of parents in the case, asked.
"I've looked for other articles. I haven't seen credible articles in other reputable journals," he said, naming the New England Journal of Medicine and the American Journal of Public Health.
ReactionThe doctor's comments during the deposition, which was part of a lawsuit filed against the state over its school mask mandate, drew criticism.
McDonald "has a complete lack of intellectual curiosity," Maddalena Cirignotta, a teacher and a plaintiff in the case, told The Epoch Times.
"I have three children enrolled in a public school system in Rhode Island and I teach, so I'm watching the harm unfold, and I have been for two years. The first thing they should have done was look into that, and yet even after a Superior Court ruling, they're still not," she added.
"That's just unacceptable when it comes to evidence-based decisions," Dr. Andrew Bostom, the plaintiffs' expert witness, told The Epoch Times. "That's not what he was supposedly trained to do as a public health professional."
Asked if other Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) officials had reviewed the studies in question, spokesman Joseph Wendelken declined to answer directly.
'Must'The statewide school mask mandate was lifted on March 4, a decision made by the department and Gov. Dan McKee, a Democrat.
Defendants tried to get the case dismissed because they noted the mandate was no longer in effect, and said it was unlikely it would be brought back.
If the students wore a mask, they could return to school on day 6, but if they did not, "they must isolate at home for the full 10 days following the positive test," the memo, discovered by plaintiffs, stated.
Under oath, McDonald said that that the memo was outlining recommendations from the CDC and was not a requirement, despite repeated use of the word "must."
"It's clearly recommendations. There's nothing enforceable about this. It's simply a memo. It's not a rule. It's not a regulation. It's not a law. It's not an executive order," he said.
"It is RIDOH’s recommendation that a student who tests positive for COVID-19 either isolate for five days and wear a mask when in public for the next five days, or isolate for 10 days," Wendelken, the health department spokesman, said.
McDonald also said that a mandate could be reimposed in the future, including if a more transmissible variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 emerges.
"It's like a looming dark threat, having a dark cloud hanging over me," Cirignotta, the teacher, said. "I feel like, will I have to worry come November, that they're going to just drop that mandate on our children again, on me and our kids? Of course, they're going to, they're clearly going to attempt to do so again."