Oct 28, 2020 - Health

Mask mandates help control the rise in coronavirus hospitalizations

Illustration of a scientist at a chalkboard drawing a mask surrounded by equations

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Coronavirus hospitalizations are rising much more dramatically in places that don’t require people to wear a face mask, according to a new Vanderbilt University analysis.

The big picture: The findings reinforce what experts have been saying for months: Masks — and mask mandates — work. They will not vanquish the coronavirus on their own, but they help. A lot.

Coronavirus hospitalizations are up across the board, both nationwide and in Tennessee. But they’re rising far more modestly in places that require masks.

By the numbers: The Vanderbilt analysis compares Tennessee hospitals based on how many of their patients come from counties with mask requirements.

  • In hospitals where at least 75% of patients are subject to a local mask requirement, COVID hospitalizations are at about the same level now as they were July 1.
  • In hospitals where fewer than 25% of patients are subject to a local mask mandate, however, hospitalizations are more than 200% higher than their July 1 levels.

Where it stands: Roughly 43,000 people are in the hospital right now for coronavirus infections, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

  • Many states are seeing more hospitalizations now than they have at any other point in the pandemic, and some localized areas are beginning to worry about running out of beds.

The bottom line: Masks are not a silver bullet; nothing is. As the Vanderbilt analysis notes, places with mask mandates may also see better adherence to other safety measures, including social distancing.

  • This is one more piece of evidence that those interventions work. They reduce the risk of transmitting the virus at all, and may reduce the risk of serious illness when some transmission does occur.

Go deeper: The pandemic is getting worse again

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