Wear the damn masks!

After a dip in the numbers for the Thanksgiving weekend (numbers tend to drop during holidays, possibly because people postpone going to see doctors and hospitals may delay reporting their data), the number of hospitalizations and deaths came roaring back.

Hospitalizations topped 100,000 for the first time and the daily number of deaths reached 2,733, just slightly below the peak of 2,769 reached back on May 7th. This rise is too soon after the holidays to have been caused by all the travel and getting together for the holiday. That grim reckoning is coming in a week or two.

When it comes to doing research on people, especially when to comes to health issues, there are serious ethical constraints that prevent certain kinds of experiments to be carried out. But at the same time, when there is a widespread health issue like the pandemic, certain natural experiments can come into being because different parts of the country and the world do different things and the populations are large enough that one can assume that factors other than the specific intervention being looked at average themselves out.

One such natural experiment occurred in Kansas where there was a statewide mandate to wear masks but some counties enforced the mandate while others did not. What they found was that those counties that enforced it had much better health outcomes.

As of August 11, 24 (23%) Kansas counties had a mask mandate in place, and 81 did not. Mandated counties accounted for two thirds of the Kansas population (1,960,703 persons; 67.3%) and were spread throughout the state, although they tended to cluster together. Six (25%) mandated and 13 (16%) nonmandated counties were metropolitan areas. Thirteen (54%) mandated counties and seven (9%) nonmandated counties had implemented at least one other public health mitigation strategy not related to the use of masks (e.g., limits on size of gatherings and occupancy for restaurants). During June 1–7, 2020, the 7-day rolling average of daily COVID-19 incidence among counties that ultimately had a mask mandate was three cases per 100,000, and among counties that did not, was four per 100,000 (Table). By the week of the governor’s executive order requiring masks (July 3–9), COVID-19 incidence had increased 467% to 17 per 100,000 in mandated counties and 50% to six per 100,000 among nonmandated counties. By August 17–23, 2020, the 7-day rolling average COVID-19 incidence had decreased by 6% to 16 cases per 100,000 among mandated counties and increased by 100% to 12 per 100,000 among nonmandated counties.

After implementation of mask mandates in 24 Kansas counties, the increasing trend in COVID-19 incidence reversed. Although rates were considerably higher in mandated counties than in nonmandated counties by the executive order, rates in mandated counties declined markedly after July 3, compared with those in nonmandated counties. Kansas counties that had mask mandates in place appear to have mitigated the transmission of COVID-19, whereas counties that did not have mask mandates continued to experience increases in cases.

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 (7).

Even Steve Doofus at Fox News’s Fox and Friends morning show, where the three hosts are huge Trump boosters who have been parroting his nonsense about the disease and let him call in and ramble on, is persuaded by this study and says in an astonished voice, “Apparently masks work.” This is only a surprise for people like him.

(Non Sequitur)

In other good news, Scott Atlas has resigned as Trump’s special health advisor. Although not an epidemiologist or public health expert, he had been promoting actions that went against the scientific consensus and since he had Trump’s ear and was telling him what he wanted to hear, Trump made him an advisor.

Atlas joined the White House this summer, where he clashed with top government scientists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr Deborah Birx, as he resisted stronger efforts to contain the pandemic.

Atlas attacked public health measures such as masks, stay-at-home orders and social distancing. He called on residents of Michigan to “rise up” against restrictions put in place by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who had been the target of a kidnapping plot, leading to calls for his firing.

Atlas repeatedly downplayed the threat of the virus, which has killed more than 265,000 Americans.

He also promoted the idea that the US should aim to achieve “herd immunity”, a so-called strategy that would probably result in millions of deaths, and was repeatedly rebuked by public health and infectious disease experts, in addition to Stanford University and the Stanford faculty senate.

His views also prompted Stanford to issue a statement distancing itself from the faculty member, saying Atlas “has expressed views that are inconsistent with the university’s approach in response to the pandemic”.

“We support using masks, social distancing, and conducting surveillance and diagnostic testing,” the university said on 16 November. “We also believe in the importance of strictly following the guidance of local and state health authorities.”

So even his colleagues at Stanford distanced themselves from him.


  1. Venkataraman Amarnath says

    Tennessee areas where mask requirements were instituted over the summer have substantially lower death rates due to COVID-19 as compared to areas without mask requirements, according to a new analysis by Vanderbilt Department of Health Policy researchers.

    The analysis, led by John Graves, PhD, associate professor of Health Policy and director of the Vanderbilt Center for Health Economic Modeling, finds that deaths per 100,000 population in the 67 counties that never required masks rose to a rate more than double the 28 counties that began requiring masks at some point between July 1 and the first week of August.

  2. Matt G says

    I saw an article from a paper in Tennessee which said: If you plan a big Thanksgiving gathering, plan a small Christmas funeral.” Not sure if it was Mano who linked to it.

  3. Who Cares says

    It is not just “Wear the damn masks”, it is Wear The Damn Masks Correctly!
    During the run on the supermarket, first one after they put up a mask requirement, over half the people do not wear them over their nose. That completely negates the use of the mask.

  4. consciousness razor says

    I saw a random clip of Schumer blathering the other day (sorry, it’s already blocked out of my memory), and it wasn’t over his nose either (more than once, actually, in the span of maybe a few minutes). Nobody there seemed to notice. And I remember Pelosi giving press conferences some time ago, where she kept trying and failing to wear hers correctly too…. might as well put the fucking thing on as a belt.

  5. Mano Singham says

    Regarding the nose thing, part of the problem is that some people think the virus is spread only by ‘droplets’, which they think only emerges from coughing or spittle.They see droplets as being large enough to be visible. They think that normal exhaling does spray droplets.

    Of course, masks over the nose also helps prevent the virus from entering the body but they ignore that.

  6. says

    No one ever learns or gets any smarter. Despite the instant (*) post-thanksgiving outbreaks, I’ve seen reports that 1-2 million in the US STILL plan to travel for xmas. (* Less than ten days for a disease with a two week incubation period I consider instant.) How many more are planning winter vacations, not just politicians?

    It took just over nine months for the worldwide death toll to reach one million on October 1st. Today at 08:00 UTC, it reached 1.5 million. That’s 500,000 dead in nine weeks, more than twice the rate. And it hasn’t even hit the worst point yet, with world and US records being set twice this week.

  7. Silentbob says

    The US is on course to have 300,000 covid deaths by the end of the year. The US death toll from WW2 was about 400,000. And that was over several years, not less than one. Yes, I know, the population has tripled since WW2, but the scale of the pandemic in the US still freaks me out. (Our death toll in Australia is about 900.)

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