For months, a group of governors across the country insisted that they would not impose a mask mandate because it represented government overreach or it just wouldn’t work. Some have since relented in the face of ever-rising case counts, but others like Wyoming’s Mark Gordon and South Dakota’s Kristi Noem have held firm.
A new study released by the Centers for Disease Control on Friday adds to the evidence that mask mandates do, in fact, slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The researchers looked at Kansas while it was in the throes of a surge this summer. Gov. Laura Kelly implemented a statewide mask requirement, but counties were allowed to opt out of it.
Some did and some did not, giving epidemiologists a chance to do side-by-by side comparisons. And what they found was clear-cut: counties that abided by Kelly’s mandate saw their cases drop 6 percent, while those that shunned a mandate saw increases of 100 percent.
Some of the counties with mandates had other anti-COVID measures in place, such as limits on the size of social gatherings or restaurant occupancy. But the data showed that counties that had a mask mandate but did not have other restrictions still saw cases drop—signaling that the mask order was making a difference.
The study authors note that the results are a compelling addition to a body of previous research that stood up the idea that a mask mandate was effective.
“The findings in this report are consistent with declines in COVID-19 cases observed in 15 states and the District of Columbia, which mandated masks, compared with states that did not have mask mandates,” they wrote.
Some governors in the latter category have warmed to the idea that just expecting people to wear masks without an order is enough—especially as their states have set record after record for new cases.
Last week, the Wyoming governor—who had been ardently opposed to a statewide requirement—suggesting one could be in the offing.
“We’ve relied on people to be responsible and they’re being irresponsible. If I can’t rely on you, we’re going to have to do something else,” Gordon said then.
Yet, a week later, despite a demand for one from the health officers of 21 counties, he still has not done it.
“It sounds like they’re not taking it very seriously in Wyoming, even though they have a lot of space. The data are clear that masks work,” said Dr. Timothy Brewer, a professor of epidemiology at UCLA and former adviser to the National Institute of Health. “Why wouldn’t you do a mask mandate if you’re doing shelter in place?”
Instead, Gordon on Thursday unveiled a list of less dramatic restrictions that include, according to the Casper Star-Tribune, capping outdoor gatherings at 25 people and limiting socially distanced indoor gatherings to 100 people. Churches, which have been a source of a number of superspreader events around the country, were exempted, the newspaper reported.
“These measures are intended to assist our healthcare system in meeting unprecedented demands for services, assure that in-classroom education can continue, and importantly keep Wyoming’s people working and her businesses open,” Gordon said.
That same day, Wyoming reported 21 COVID-19 deaths, its most yet in a single day.
“There’s no downside to masks. It’s unfortunate in the U.S. that we’ve politicized mask wearing. People should think of them as both a community action for public health and an individual protection,” Brewer told The Daily Beast.
Not all governors have been as stubborn as Gordon. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum just adopted a statewide mask rule, and Iowa’s Kim Reynolds announced a weaker version of one. But South Dakota’s Noem, Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt, and Nebraska’s Peter Ricketts have watched cases go up and up without one.
“Some have said that my refusal to mandate masks is a reason why our cases are rising here in South Dakota, and that is not true,” Noem, who is almost always seen without a mask, said this week.