A University of Louisville study that used CDC data collected over the last year found that “mask mandates and use are not associated with lower SARS-CoV-2 spread among US states.”
The study used two mask metrics to evaluate the correlation between mask-wearing and Covid-19 growth rates. It compared the spread of the virus in various states to determine if state-mandated populations had lower incidences of the virus or a slower rate of viral spread. The findings suggest that even during heavy waves of the virus, there was no discernable difference between the populations where masks were required and those where they were not.
The CDC has maintained from the beginning that masks provide a protective barrier that keeps the wearer’s saliva droplets from reaching others. As recently as late 2020, the CDC even suggested double masking to further decrease the chances of viral transmission.
However, this recent study claims to debunk that theory, and many are pointing to Dr. Fauci’s original claims regarding the efficacy of masks in inhibiting the spread of viruses. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said on March 8, 2020, “There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask. When you’re in the middle of an outbreak, wearing a mask might make people feel a little bit better and it might even block a droplet, but it’s not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is. And, often, there are unintended consequences — people keep fiddling with the mask and they keep touching their face.”
At the time, he explained that when doctors wear masks, they do so to keep their saliva droplets from reaching patients during surgery, possibly leading to infection. He added that masks do not protect doctors in that scenario, and drew the conclusion that they would be equally ineffective protecting the mask-wearer during a viral spread.
Fauci amended his views shortly after his original statement, though, agreeing with CDC guidelines that said masks were the first line of defense against the virus until a vaccine could be created. He has consistently encouraged mask-wearing since he altered his stance in April 2020.
Now, the University of Louisville has studied the trajectory of the disease in 33 states and determined that while mask-wearing was not useless – it did seem to slow the spread during low-transmission periods – it did not perform as intended, especially during high-transmission periods.
This can be attributed to several factors: people wearing “masks” fashioned out of material not intended to inhibit germs, those wearing face coverings that did not enclose the mouth and nose, or those ignoring mask mandates and social distancing guidelines. Even in the states where mask-wearing was not mandated, many businesses required them and people still chose to wear them in public places, so the data can be skewed by several variables.
The study does, however, support what many states have experienced firsthand. Texas saw no spike in Covid-19 cases after lifting the mask mandate, and Florida, which came under fire for re-opening before anyone, fared better in the long run than states with tight restrictions. In fact, an April 2021 study reported that states with very strict mask-mandating laws actually fared worse in the last year than those with looser restrictions.
Researchers at the University of Louisville did point out that the study did not consider mortality rate to determine if it was lower in states with mask mandates. They acknowledge that it’s possible that while masks might not have slowed the virus, they may have reduced the number of fatalities.
They affirmed, nevertheless, that states that mandated masks saw no discernable difference in the spread of Covid-19 from those that did not.