Masks and bans on indoor dining do little to stop the spread of COVID-19, according to a new report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Infection, and media outlets that covered the findings downplayed the results.
According to the CDC report, published March 12 in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, while mask mandates and indoor restaurant bans did decrease daily cases of COVID-19 and deaths, the results were a correlation and a tiny one at that.
Mask mandates reduced case growth between zero and 1.8 percent, and COVID death rates by .7 and 1.9 percent, with an increase in deaths 21-40 days after the mandate went into effect.
In states that allowed indoor dining, cases increased no more than 1.1 percent, and in some cases (between one and 40 days) actually fell. Deaths increased from .1 percent to 3 percent, with the higher rate occurring 80 to 100 days out.
Media outlets reported the findings but downplayed the numbers. “CDC study shows a link between mask mandates, reduced COVID-19 spread as states lift restrictions,” reported ABC on March 5 (the day the result released to the public). “CDC study finds easing mask and restaurant rules led to more COVID cases and deaths, as some states move to lift restrictions,” stated CNBC.
Mississippi and Texas governors have announced a full re-opening of their states after months of mandates have crippled some industries and reduced education to tumultuous virtual learning. President Biden criticized reopening as “Neanderthal thinking.”
Low Impact, Nothing New
The CDC’s findings on masks are in line with a Danish study published in November and a study on quarantined Marine recruits published in the New England Journal of Medicine in December. Both studies found limited evidence that mask-wearing was effective in stopping the spread of SARS-CoV-2. On September 11, CDC reported in a group of 314 with and without COVID-19, there was no significant difference in vigilant mask use.
On March 8, CDC stated fully-vaccinated people do not have to wear masks while mingling with vaccinated people or unvaccinated individuals from a single household who are at low-risk for severe disease
“Masks do little to protect people from disease,” said Patrick Wood, director and founder of Citizens for Free Speech. “There are no scientific studies that show this. People will ask, then why have masks always been worn in medical settings? The answer is simple – to protect patients and providers from saliva, Wood told Health Care News. “There may be a reason for some people to wear face masks in public, but for the general population, masks can pose a health risk. Medical experts agree and a number of people are making this point.”
“I find the new guidance for the vaccinated individuals curious,” Singleton said. “The vaccine guidance says that vaccinated folks while visiting with other fully vaccinated can take off their masks and get close to one another in their own home as if most people were not already doing that. They can also go mask-less with unvaccinated low-risk individuals. Fully vaccinated folks are still told to wear masks outside the home. We are told to accept this unscientific recommendation as ‘the new normal’ as if that makes it reasonable or rational.”
The mask guidance for vaccinated individuals is curious, says Marilyn Singleton, M.D., J.D., a former president of the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons who has written widely on masks. “The vaccine guidance says that vaccinated folks while visiting with other fully vaccinated [people] can take off their masks and get close to one another in their own home as if most people were not already doing that,” said Singleton. “They can also go mask-less with unvaccinated low-risk individuals. Fully vaccinated folks are still told to wear masks outside the home. We are told to accept this unscientific recommendation as ‘the new normal’ as if that makes it reasonable or rational.”
Florida v. California
Now state lockdowns have been in place for one year, it is easier to measure the effectiveness of mitigation measures. AnneMarie Knott, a business professor with Washington University who has been examining COVID trends. Most recently Knott has compared weekly COVID-19 deaths between highly restrictive California and Florida, which limited restrictions, using CDC data.
“Florida’s population is much older, so it should have had a higher COVID death rate than California, but it took the hits early, and in the end has a lower total death rate of 1.22 per 1000 versus 1.32 per 1000,” Knott told Health Care News.
Death rates in highly restricted versus low-restriction states do not support mask efficacy. As for the slight decrease in cases, CDC noted for masks, Knott offers one explanation. “One thing the study may be picking up is that states impose masks when cases are rising. Cases naturally peak after that, then decline. So the study may be giving masks credit for something that happens naturally.”
Indoor dining bans have devastated the dining industry with restaurants and bars losing more than 370,000 jobs in December, a record high, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
On-premises dining was reopened in the majority (97.9 percent) of U.S. counties during the CDC’s study. According to the report, “Changes in daily COVID-19 case and death growth rates were not statistically significant.”
The bottom line is the contagion control taught nothing not known earlier. “What we really have to rely on is common sense,” said Singleton. “If you are sick, stay home and isolate. If you are healthy, get some sunshine, cough into your elbow, and most important wash your hands.”
Ashley Bateman (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.
This article was revised April 1.
Association of State-Issued Mask Mandates and Allowing On-Premises Restaurant Dining with County-Level COVID-19 Case and death Growth Rates – United States, March 1 – December 31, 20202, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 12, 2021: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7010e3.htm#T1_down