Fresh evidence of this comes in the form of a new CDC report issued on Friday. That report drives home the facts that: “Mandating masks was associated with a decrease in daily COVID-19 case and death growth rates within 20 days of implementation.” States that put mask mandates in place and kept them in place, have been rewarded with lower cases of COVID-19, lower hospitalizations, and a lower rate of deaths. On the other hand: “Allowing on-premises restaurant dining was associated with an increase in daily COVID-19 case growth rates 41–100 days after implementation and an increase in daily death growth rates 61–100 days after implementation.”
Now, guess which way Republicans have been moving.
At their base, there’s nothing really new in this report. It’s been understood from early in the pandemic that in-restaurant dining was one of the activities that was most likely to spread the disease. After all, packing people into close quarters in a situation where opening their mouths much of the time seems like a perfect formula for exchanging a virus in wholesale quantities. It’s understandable that restaurant and bar owners have been upset about the restrictions—especially since owning a restaurant is often a extremely risky proposition in the best of times. But populating restaurants to the level necessary to keep them profitable, and at the same time keeping them safe, may be simply impossible.
At the same time, it’s been well understood from the beginning that mask wearing is one of the best ways to reduce transmission of COVID-19. Republicans may shout about early statements from Dr. Anthony Fauci, or claim that transmission of the virus through aerosol means masks are ineffective, but … they’re just wrong. Despite “experts” that claim masks don’t stop viruses, but can somehow block transmission of infinitely smaller oxygen molecules, the CDC, World Health Organization, and every serious academic study has demonstrated the effectiveness of masks.
The new CDC report gives that effectiveness a big fat underline. In states that issued mask mandates, it took less than three weeks to find an associated decrease in daily COVID-19 cases. This same drop could be seen in counties and localities that implemented mask mandates even when the state government refused to take action.
What is new is the the extended confirmation of just how strong the effect can be from these simple actions. A mask mandate profoundly affected the rate of growth of COVID-19 for the better. Opening restaurants for on-site dining profoundly affected that rate of growth for the worse. On the chart below, the “reference period” represents the 20 days immediately following a mask mandate (left) or opening restaurants for on-site dining (right).
Notice that the effect here may be even greater than it seems at first. The mask mandate charts show that these were, on average, issued at a time when the rate growth of COVID-19 was increasing. In other words, governors put these mandates in place when things were bad and getting worse. Even so, the mask mandate rapidly turned the situation around, cutting the rate of growth to levels well below the point of implementation.
On the other hand, note that in-restaurant dining was usually implemented at a point when cases were declining. This is exactly the situation many states are seeing today, where governors are responding to a decline over a period of a few weeks by opening the doors on restaurants and bars. Though the effect was not immediate, a few weeks of reopening restaurants was enough to reverse the decline in case counts and send COVID-19 numbers back into a growth cycle.
One last time, the conclusion to the report:
“Community mitigation measures can help reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. In this study, mask mandates were associated with reductions in COVID-19 case and death growth rates within 20 days, whereas allowing on-premises dining at restaurants was associated with increases in COVID-19 case and death growth rates after 40 days.”
The report also notes that with “the emergence of more transmissible COVID-19 variants” these measures are even more important.
The effectiveness of the social distancing measures implemented to fight COVID-19 can be seen in another widely repeated statistic. The winter of 2020-2021 has essentially seen no sign of the usual flu season.
There are additional reasons why this number is down. For example, the close of many in-person schools means that children, who are extremely effective vectors of the flu, haven’t been as readily exposed. But that’s just an extension of the measures that have been implemented against COVID-19. Why have they been so incredibly effective in battling the flu? Here’s a quick summary from the Virginia Department of Health:
“The reproductive number, R0 (pronounced R naught), is a value that describes how contagious a disease is. For the flu, the R0 tends to be between 1 and 2, which means that for every person infected with the flu, one to two additional people become infected. For COVID-19, the R0 is higher, between 2 and 3. With COVID-19, there are also some documented examples of “superspreaders” who can infect a large number of people.”
By this point in the pandemic, everyone has seen a whole variety of projected numbers for the R0 value of COVID-19, including values that vary by situation and variant. However, the point is that the flu is less easily transmitted than SARS-CoV-2. It’s easier for the measures being taken to drop the R0 value of influenza below 1.0, the point at which the chain of transmission can no longer be sustained. The flu numbers are a very good check on the actions being taken to fight COVID-19 and a nice indicator that we’re doing the right things.
All of which is why this is exactly the wrong time to end mask mandates and open restaurants. These are just two factors in a larger set of issues. Still, they are two factors which we know have a sizable impact on the course of COVID-19 infections. And a quick look at the CDC chart shows one thing very clearly—COVID-19 deaths track very closely to higher rates of infection.
As of a Tuesday press conference, President Biden indicated that enough vaccine will be available to vaccinate every American adult by the end of May. That’s just 12 weeks, or 87 days, away. Even if Republicans are still reluctant to get vaccinated, the nation can cross that boundary with COVID-19 numbers trending downward, or it can happen during a desperate fight to put down a fourth wave of cases.
Controlling COVID-19 is within our grasp. We can get there, even if some Republican governors are failing to deploy a full third of their vaccine. Even if some Republican governors are sending vaccines to their white supporters first, leaving Black and Latino neighborhoods facing a huge shortage. Even if white Republicans spurn the vaccine out of some brainless QAnon-inspired conspiracy theory. We can get there because President Biden is securing vaccine in such quantities that states, even Republican-run states, are going to succeed in spite of themselves. But we can get there better, more safely, more quickly, if everyone will just sit the #$@% down and keep their masks on another few weeks.
Now … who wants to be the last American to die from COVID-19, so that Greg Abbott can throw up a distraction to his disastrous handling of energy policy?