Statewide Mask Mandates Reduced COVID-19 Hospitalizations, Study Says

Carolyn Crist

February 08, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

States that implemented mask mandates in 2020 saw a decline in the growth of COVID-19 hospitalizations between March and October 2020, according to a new study published Friday in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Hospitalization growth rates declined by 5.5 percentage points for adults between ages 18-64 about three weeks after the mandates were implemented, as compared with climbing growth rates in the four weeks before mandates.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said she was pleased to see the results but said it's "too early" to tell whether President Joe Biden's recent mask orders have had an effect on cases and hospitalizations in 2021.

"We're going to be watching the mask data very carefully," she said during a news briefing with the White House COVID-19 Response Team on Friday afternoon. "I think it's probably still a bit too early to tell, but I'm encouraged with the decrease in case rates right now."

In another study published Friday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, trained observers tracked mask use at six universities with mask mandates between September and November 2020. Overall, observers reported that about 92% of people wore masks correctly indoors, which varied based on the type of mask.

About 97% of people used N95 masks correctly, as compared with 92% who used cloth masks, and 79% who used bandanas, scarves, or neck gaiters. Cloth masks were most common, and bandanas and scarves were least common.

The Biden administration is considering whether to send masks directly to American households to encourage people to wear them, according to NBC News. The White House COVID-19 Response Team is debating the logistics of mailing out masks, including how many to send and what the mask material would be, the news outlet reported.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers reissued a new statewide mask mandate on Thursday, just an hour after the Republican-controlled legislature voted to repeal his previous mandate, according to The Associated Press. Evers said his priority is to keep people safe and that wearing a mask is the easiest way to do so.

"If the legislature keeps playing politics and we don't keep wearing masks, we're going to see more preventable deaths," Evers said. "It's going to take even longer to get our state and our economy back on track."

Sources:

CDC, "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: Decline in COVID-19 Hospitalization Growth Rates Associated with Statewide Mask Mandates — 10 States, March–October 2020."

C-SPAN, "White House COVID-19 Response Team Briefing, Feb. 5, 2021."

CDC, "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: Observed Face Mask Use at Six Universities — United States, September–November 2020."

NBC News, "Biden administration weighs plan to directly send masks to all Americans."

Associated Press, "Wisconsin governor issues new mask mandate after GOP repeal."

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