It continues to baffle me — as a critical care physician taking care of patients afflicted with COVID-19 — that there continues to be debate and controversy over wearing masks.
The science is clear that they work. There is no evidence they cause carbon dioxide to rise in the blood, and it is the one thing everyone can do to mitigate the spreading of SARS CoV-2.
Still, the controversy remains.
And so, is there another way to show that wearing masks really does mitigate the spread of SARS CoV-2? Enter researchers from the University of Kansas.
A mask mandate was instituted by the Governor of the State of Kansas this past summer. Counties in Kansas were allowed to opt-out of the mandate. Dozens of counties did just that.
And so, researchers then compared the spread of COVID-19 in those counties with the mask mandate and those without. They found that, in the first two weeks after the mask mandate, cases rose in those counties with and without the mandate. After the two weeks, however, cases were steady and/or declined.
They then performed statistical analysis to control for social distancing. This analysis showed that the mask mandate decreased transmission between 50 and 61% in those counties that adopted the mask mandate.
Now, it is absolutely true that masks do not completely prevent the spread of COVID-19. No one has ever said that. It is, however, absolutely true that wearing masks slows transmission of the virus, and we now have real world data to back this up. And when we decrease the spread, we decrease the number of hospitalizations. When we decrease the number of hospitalizations, we decrease the number of deaths.
It’s that simple. Yet, is there data to back up that masks can reduce hospitalization rates? Enter Vanderbilt University researchers.
In a press release, Dr. John Graves — Director of the Vanderbilt Center for Health Economic Modeling — said:
Here is the data they found:
As you can see, growth in hospitalizations slows in those hospitals that have more patients from counties with mask mandates. And while it is true that fewer people in the hospital do not guarantee you will have less death, if hospitalizations stay low, that absolutely means fewer people are sick enough to require the hospital. And this should mean fewer deaths.
Furthermore, with fewer hospitalizations, this is less strain on the healthcare system. And, as the data show, hospitalizations across the country are rising again. So, once more, this is further real-world evidence that masks do make a difference and do save lives.
Now, it is absolutely true that masks do not completely prevent the spread of COVID-19. No one has ever said that. It is, however, absolutely true that wearing masks slows transmission of the virus and can reduce hospitalization rates. This real-world data backs this up.
So, please, just wear a mask. It is truly a matter of life and death.