Missouri withheld data showing effectiveness of mask mandates

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Mask mandates were effective as the Delta strain of the coronavirus caused an increase in Covid-19 cases in Missouri, according to an analysis conducted in early November by the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services.

But the state didn’t immediately share that data with the public. Instead, the information was released Wednesday, a month later, due to a public filing request from The Missouri Independent, a nonprofit news organization that reported the findings, and the Documenting Covid-19 project of the Brown Institute for Media Innovation.

The data includes a Nov. 3 email from the director of the Missouri Department of Health to an aide to the governor’s office. The email contained two charts comparing the rates of reported Covid-19 cases and deaths in parts of Missouri with and without mask mandates.

The director, Donald Kauerauf, said in the email that there were many variables to consider when assessing the effects of mask requirements in Missouri this year, but the analysis ultimately found such requirements to be effective.

“I think we can say with great confidence that we look at the public health literature and then look at the results in your study that communities where masks were needed had a lower positivity rate per 100,000 and lower death rates,” Mr. Kauerauf wrote.

The analysis compared reported cases and death rates in areas of the state without mask requirements with the rates in St. Louis, St. Louis County, Kansas City and Jackson County, where mask mandates were in effect.

The study looked at the period from April to October, when the Delta variant caused an increase in the number of coronavirus infections worldwide.

During that period, there were an average of 15.8 cases per day for every 100,000 residents in the areas requiring masks, compared with 21.7 cases per 100,000 in unmasked communities, according to The Missouri Independent’s analysis of data. Regions without mask requirements recorded one death per 100,000 residents every 3.5 days, compared with one death per 100,000 residents every five days where masks were mandatory, according to The Missouri Independent.

Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, has said he supports the wearing of masks to slow the spread of Covid-19, but he has repeatedly spoken out against mask requirements. In July, he said on Twitter that providing mask mandates while a vaccine is available has eroded public confidence. “The vaccine is how we get rid of COVID-19, not masking mandates that ignore common sense,” Mr Parson wrote.

Parson’s office and the state health department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

In Missouri, new cases have risen from a daily average of about 1,000 in early November to more than 2,000 this month, and hospitalizations are up 32 percent in the past 14 days, according to a New York Times database. More than 15,540 people have died from Covid-19 in Missouri, according to the database.

In late November, a Missouri circuit court judge ruled that public health orders issued by local health departments to prevent the spread of the coronavirus violated the state’s constitution.

However, masks are still required in St. Louis and St. Louis County. Kansas City ended the requirement on Nov. 5, and the Jackson County legislature voted in early November to end the mask requirement.

Nick Dunne, a spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, said city officials believed St. Louis’s mandate was still legal, despite the court order. Commenting on the Department of Health’s analysis, Mr Dunne said: “It tells us what public health experts have always told us, which is that masks are an effective tool to prevent the transmission of the Covid-19 virus. by reducing the community.”

In November 2020, Missouri hospitals asked Mr. Parson to issue a statewide mask warrant as hospital administrators struggled to find beds for Covid-19 patients.

Dave Dillon, a spokesperson for the Missouri Hospital Association, said Thursday that because vaccines were available and there were now more options to treat Covid-19, the request for a statewide mask order was “an artifact.”

Dillon said the association still encourages people to use masks and follow social distancing guidelines. “As we are still in response to Covid-19 – with a growing positivity rate and number of hospital admissions – our position will evolve as science and public health guidelines evolve,” Mr Dillon said in an email.

Across the country, four states and several counties and cities have mask mandates. On Thursday, President Biden extended the requirement for travelers to wear masks on planes, trains and buses and at airports and transit stations until mid-March as part of a broader strategy to fight Covid-19. These measures come as scientists and officials prepare for a possible surge in winter coronavirus cases and seek more information about a new variant known as Omicron.

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