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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

Go deeper

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

J&J says its one-shot vaccine is 66% effective against moderate to severe COVID

Photo: Thiago Prudêncio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson announced Friday that its single-shot coronavirus vaccine was 66% effective in protecting against moderate to severe COVID-19 disease in Phase 3 trials, which was comprised of nearly 44,000 participants across eight countries.

Between the lines: The vaccine was 72% effective in the U.S., but only 57% effective in South Africa, where a more contagious variant has been spreading. It prevented 85% of severe infections and 100% of hospitalizations and deaths, according to the company.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

WHO says most pregnant women can now receive coronavirus vaccine

A doctor administering Moderna's coronavirus vaccine at a university hospital in Essen, Germany, on Jan. 18. Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has altered its guidance for pregnant women who wish to receive the coronavirus vaccine, saying now that those at high risk of exposure to the COVID-19 or who have comorbidities that increase their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated.

Why it matters: The WHO drew backlash for its previous guidance that did not recommend pregnant women be inoculated with vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, even though data indicated that pregnancy increased the risk of developing severe illness from the virus.

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Science helps New Zealand avoid another coronavirus lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) visits a lab at Auckland University in December. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand has avoided locking down for a second time over COVID-19 community cases because of a swift, science-led response.

Why it matters: The Health Ministry said in an email to Axios Friday there's "no evidence of community transmission" despite three people testing positive after leaving managed hotel isolation. That means Kiwis can continue to visit bars, restaurants and events as much of the world remains on lockdown.