Study: Counties without masks see more rapid spread of virus

“We found a 50% reduction in the spread of COVID-19 in counties that had a mask mandate..."

Woman wearing mask

TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas counties that require masks have seen about half as many new coronavirus infections as counties that don’t mandate face coverings, a study has found, as cases statewide surged again to record levels.

“Do Masks Matter in Kansas” produced by the Institute for Policy and Social Research at the University of Kansas found that counties that require masks saw a decrease in their seven-day rolling average of daily cases per 100,000 population starting 14 days after the mandate was issued.

“Masks, it is important to note, do not eliminate COVID, but they significantly slow the spread of the disease – at least here in Kansas,” said Donna K. Ginther, the institute’s director, in a video presenting the study’s findings. The Institute for Policy and Social Research at the University of Kansas has been tracking the impact of COVID-19 on the state, The Kansas City Star reported.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly tried over the summer to issue a statewide mask mandate, but most of the state’s 105 counties opted out. This week, Kelly and top Republicans agreed to try to persuade counties that are coronavirus hot spots to impose mask requirements rather than having the state step in. But she said she could still call the Republican-controlled Legislature into special session to impose a statewide rule.

Counties without mask mandates have seen the seven-day rolling average of daily cases per 100,000 steadily increase. And in September, those counties started to have higher case rates compared to counties with a mask mandate, Ginther said.

“We found a 50% reduction in the spread of COVID-19 in counties that had a mask mandate compared to those without,” Ginther said.

The total number of confirmed and probable coronavirus cases in the state jumped by 3,136 from Wednesday to Friday this week for a pandemic total of 85,181. That gave the state a rolling average of 1,278 new cases a day for the seven days ending Friday.

Kansas also reported 22 additional COVID-19-related deaths since Wednesday, to bring its total to 1,029. Hospitalizations rose over the two days by 80 to 3,832.

Shawnee County Health Officer Gianfranco Pezzino announced at a commission meeting Thursday that he won’t renew his contract at the end of this year, citing frustration with the response to the pandemic, The Topeka Capital Journal reports.

“The lack of leadership starting at the national level that percolates down to all levels of society, and the divisiveness that has been created by that … there is no surprise the same kind of division and confusion trickles down to all levels of our society,” said Pezzino, who has been the county’s health officer for 14 years.

Pezzino, who is 66, also said his physical and mental health played a role in his decision to leave. He will continue his work as a senior fellow for the Kansas Health Institute.