LAWRENCE -- Face masks have made a significant impact in Kansas, despite political and cultural resistance.
"These had a huge impact in counties that had a mandate for masks," stated Donna Ginther (Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Economic and director of the Institute for Policy & Social Research, University of Kansas). "Our research showed that masks had a significant impact on the number of deaths, hospitalizations, and cases in all counties. It was around 60%."
Ginther's article, "Association of Mask Mandates & COVID-19 Deaths, Case Rates, Hospitalizations & Mortality in Kansas", examines the impact of masks on Kansas' 105 counties. It is published in JAMA Network Open by the American Medical Association.
Kansas has the fifth highest number of counties in the United States. Executive Order No. Executive Order No. 20-52, which took effect July 2020, was initially adopted only by 15 counties. 68 other counties did not adopt the order until October. Additional 40 counties adopted a second mandate in November.
Ginther stated that while masks may be useful in certain situations, the impact on hospitalizations as well as deaths was quite remarkable.
Ginther co-authored the report with Carlos Zambrana (an associate researcher at Institute for Policy & Social Research). Ginther estimates that masks have saved approximately 500 lives in adoptive countries. Yet, many other counties refused to accept the mandate citing personal freedoms or lack of scientific evidence.
"A clinical trial on masks is impossible because it would require you to observe all people wearing them, and not everyone's behavior. Ginther stated that this type of observational study was the best we could do.
"But, in terms of personal liberty, I would argue that wearing a mask constitutes a public benefit. You could be infected yourself or others by not wearing one. This is a low-cost, preventative measure that can preserve life in a pandemic.
Her study used data from multiple sources. The daily total number per county was taken from The New York Times COVID-19 data, which is available in the U.S. GitHub repository. The Kansas Health Institute compiled the list of official actions for each state. Linear regression difference in-difference models were used. Cases were regressed based on an indicator variable that began 21 days after the mandate. This indicator is an indicator for coronavirus cases, and the number days since the first case was recorded.
To save lives, we are required to wear seatbelts in order to drive safely. To save lives, we get driver's licenses. To prevent spread of infectious diseases, we have vaccine mandates that children go to school. All of these public health measures are followed. She said that eventually, the government will intervene and say, "These are the right actions to take to save lives."
There are economic consequences to ignoring a mandate for a mask, in addition to the negative health effects.
She said that COVID-19 is expensive. It slows down economic activity. It can lead to hospitalizations being expensive. We have shown that COVID can be prevented and saved money for the health care system.
Ginther, now in her 18th year of KU, believes that "Association of Mask Mandates", a non-medical intervention to prevent the spread of respiratory disease, is a good example of Ginther's belief.
She stated, "Given all that's going on around the globe, this may not the last pandemic in my lifetime." Think about countries like India, which don't have the vaccine. It is important to know that the mask is effective and cost-effective if you want to slow down spread.