Mask mandates are counterproductive — How much more data do we need?
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April 14, 2021 (American Thinker) — On March 17, American Thinker posted an article entitled "Mask Mandates Do Not Save Lives." By comparing COVID death rates in states with no mask mandate to states in which masking was mandatory, the article was able to show that, on average, states in which masking was voluntary had lower death rates than states requiring it. The difference was marginal, so the conservative conclusion was that required masking had not saved lives.
Since that study did nothing to control for potentially confounding considerations like population density or age structure, more sophisticated studies of the question are in order. What it highlighted, however, is the ongoing failure of our governments to provide measurable evidence that masks save lives.
At the time that article was written, there were only ten states that had no mask mandates, but since then, seven additional states have lifted them. Those states have been heavily criticized for having done so. President Biden has referred to their decision as "Neanderthal thinking," and a great many high-profile people of a progressive bent have expressed dismay at such irresponsible behavior. However, no evidence has been brought forward to document the measured effectiveness of obligatory masking.
Masking might logically be expected to influence the death rate only indirectly. If masks diminish the appearance of new cases, then — other things being equal — fewer cases should mean fewer deaths.
On March 31, NPR posted an article entitled "How Severe is Your State's Coronavirus Outbreak?" It contains an interactive map that for each state allows the viewer to see the rate at which new COVID cases have appeared in the preceding week. The rate is expressed as the average daily number of new cases per 100,000 population.
How effectively are mask mandate states containing the spread of the disease relative to the states that don't require masks? We can look at the performance of mask mandate states relative to those states not requiring masks to get a preliminary idea.
There are seventeen states that did not require masks during the March 24–31 week, thirty-three states that did. The following map shows which category each state falls in. The number — usually in the upper right corner of a state — is the average daily new case rate per 100,000 population.
Since this is all about state policy regarding masks, the states are equal in weight regardless of population size. Here are the average daily new cases per 100,000 population for each of the two groups.
33 mask mandate states: 21.0 daily new cases per 100,000 people
17 mask voluntary states: 14.2 daily new cases per 100,000 people
The states not requiring masks are outperforming the mask mandate states by a huge margin. Their rate is about two thirds that of the mask mandate states. This flies in the face of what the American public is being told by the news media: states without mask mandates are not driving the recent (modest) rise in infection rates; mask mandate states are.
Lets break down the data a little more and extract additional detail to see if there is any evidence that masks mandates work. We will start with two separate groups of states, based on the same sort of partitioning that was done in that earlier article entitled "Mask Mandates Do Not Save Lives": the ten states that have never had any mask mandate and the ten states that implemented the earliest (and longest running) mask mandates. By now, after so many months, the ten most committed mask mandate states should be showing a significantly better performance than the group of states that have never imposed a mandate.
A third group will be those states that only eventually adopted a mask mandate. One would expect that the states in this group will have done better than the group of mask-voluntary states, but not as well as the ten states that adopted the mandate early on.
That leaves a fourth group: those states that had a mask mandate but recently decided to terminate it. Even though they are now misbehaving, they did for a time act responsibly, so maybe their average new case rate will fall below that of the laggardly bunch but still ahead of the incorrigibles.
Here is a summary of the four categories.
Early and still active enforcers of a mask mandate: 10 states
Eventual and still active enforcers of a mask mandate: 23 states
Enforcers of a mask mandate who have abandoned the policy: 7 states
Incorrigible disbelievers in any mask mandate: 10 states
Here is a modified map showing the four categories:
When a standard mean value is calculated for each group, here are the results.
Early mask states: 27.0 daily new cases per 100,000
Laggard mask states: 18.4 daily new cases per 100,000
Masks abandoned states: 12.4 daily new cases per 100,000
Masks voluntary states: 15.4 daily new cases per 100,000
Mask-voluntary states are experiencing new case rates so much lower than the rates of mask obligatory states that it is now reasonable to begin asking why and how this is happening. The ferocious criticism levied against states that recently dropped the mask mandate is beginning to look not just wrong, but like a desperate effort to defend the indefensible. The longer some of our governments keep insisting on the wearing of masks, the more authoritarian and the less credible their pronouncements become.
It is particularly noteworthy that the states that recently dropped the mask mandate are experiencing new cases at a lower rate than any of the three other groups. These states were vilified for abandoning the mask mandate, and many supposedly expert opinions contended that their behavior would result in an explosion of new cases. Not only has this not happened, but this group of seven states is outperforming the other three groups by a considerable margin.
Two states were singled out for intense criticism: Mississippi and Texas. Those two states lifted the mask mandates on March 3 and March 10, respectively. For Texas, three weeks passed with no indication of a significant rise in the new case rate. For Mississippi, there was not significant rise even after four weeks. Furthermore, both states have new case rates that put to shame those of states requiring masks.
Some will argue that there hasn't yet been enough time for the COVID cases to develop, but that is simply untrue. According to WebMD, "[s]ymptoms for COVID-19 can start as early as 2 days and as long as 14 days after you are exposed. Research shows that the average time symptoms appear is around 4 to 5 days." There has been more than enough time for Texas and Mississippi to have experienced the anticipated outbreak. Mask mandate believers must come to terms with this.
It is time to demand rigorously collected and objectively analyzed data showing the degree to which mask mandates allegedly suppress the spread of COVID. Pronouncements by the supposed experts are no longer enough.
It is even time to begin contemplating the possibility that mask mandates have had the opposite effect of that intended.
Reprinted with permission from the American Thinker.