A new national study adds strong evidence that masked mandates can slow the spread of coronavirus and that allowing meals in restaurants can increase the number of cases and deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the study on Friday.
“All of this is very consistent,” said CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky during a briefing at the White House on Friday. “You have a reduction in cases and deaths when you wear masks, and you have a reduction in cases and deaths when you personally dine at a restaurant.”
The study was published just as some states are abolishing mandates for masks and restaurant restrictions. Earlier this week, Texas became the largest state to repeal its mask rule, joining the movement of many governors to ease COVID-19 restrictions despite requests from health officials.
“It’s a solid business that speaks quite strongly in favor of the fact that personal dining is one of the more important things to deal with if you want to control a pandemic,” said William Hanage, an expert at Harvard University. disease dynamics not included in the study.
The new study is based on smaller CDC studies, including those that found that people in 10 states who became infected were more likely to dine at a restaurant in July, and another that found that mandates for masks in 10 states were linked to a reduction number of hospitalizations.
CDC researchers looked at U.S. counties under a state mandate under masks and counties that allowed dining in restaurants – both indoors and at outdoor tables. The study studied the data from March to December last year.
The scientists found that the mandates for the masks were linked to reduced coronavirus transmission and that improvements in new cases and deaths increased as time went on.
Decreases in growth rates ranged from half a percentage point to almost 2 percentage points. That may sound small, but the large number of people involved means the impact grows over time, experts said.
“Every day as the growth rate decreases, the cumulative effect – in terms of cases and deaths – becomes quite significant,” said Gery Guy Jr., a scientist from the CDC who was the lead author of the study.
The reopening of the restaurant was not accompanied by a significant increase in cases and deaths in the first 40 days after the restrictions were lifted. But after that, there was an increase in the growth rate of cases from about 1 percentage point and – later – from 2 to 3 percentage points in the growth rate of deaths.
The delay could be because restaurants did not open immediately and many customers may have been reluctant to dine immediately after the restrictions were lifted, Guy said.
Also, there is always a lag between when people are infected and when they get sick, and longer until the moment they end up in the hospital and die. In the case of dinner, the delay in death could be caused by the fact that the eaters themselves may not die, but could become infected and then pass it on to others who get sick and die, Hanage said.
“What happens in a restaurant doesn’t stay in the restaurant,” he said.
CDC officials did not say the local dining room must stop. But they said that if restaurants open, as many preventative measures as possible should be followed, such as promoting open meals, proper indoor ventilation, masking employees and urging customers to wear masks when not eating or drinking.
The study had limitations. For example, researchers tried to make calculations that took into account other policies, such as banning mass gatherings or closing bars, that could affect the case rate and mortality. But the authors acknowledged that they could not explain all the possible impacts – such as the reopening of schools.
“It’s always very, very difficult to thoroughly establish cause-and-effect relationships,” Hanage said. “But when you take this together with all the other things we know about the virus, it supports the message” about the value of wearing masks and the dangers of eating in restaurants, he added.
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