Counties in Kansas that followed the state’s mask mandate earlier this year saw coronavirus cases fall, but those that didn’t witnessed infections spiking, a new study finds.
In July, Governor Laura Kelly, a Democrat, issued a face covering mandate, but a state law allowed counties to opt out.
For the counties that required masks, a seven-day rolling average of new daily cases per capita saw a decline of six percent.
By comparison, the counties that opted out saw a 100 percent increase, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found.
It comes as Kansas prepares to launch a media campaign aimed at getting more of its residents to wear masks to curb the spread of the virus.
Researchers looked at all 105 counties in Kansas following a mask mandate and found the 24 counties that followed the order saw coronavirus cases decrease by 6% to 16 cases per 100,000 people (above)
In comparison, cases in nonmandated counties that did not follow Governor Laura Kelly’s mandate spiked by 100% to 12 per 100,000 over the same time period. Pictured: Kelly walks out of a press conference at the Statehouse where she issued a face mask protocol in an executive order, November 18
Earlier this summer, the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature forced Gov Kelly to accept that local officials would set pandemic restrictions.
This means that when she issued mask mandates – including one set to take effect on Wednesday – a law allows each of the state’s 105 counties to opt out.
For the study, the CDC looked at the executive order Kelly signed that went into effect on July 3, requiring people to wear face coverings in public spaces.
A total of 81 counties opted out of the mandate.
The other 24 counties, which account for two-thirds of the state’s population, chose to follow Kelly’s order.
Researchers then looked at the number of cases in nonmandated and mandated counties from June 1 through August 23.
In early June, the seven-day rolling average of daily infections among Kansas counties that ultimately had a mask mandate was three cases per 100,000 and four per 100,000 in counties that did not.
During the week of the governor’s executive order, the average had risen to 17 per 100,000 in mandated counties and six per 100,000 among nonmandated counties.
By late August, COVID-19 incidence in mandated counties had decreased by six percent to 16 cases per 100,000.
However, the incidence spiked by 100 percent to 12 per 100,000 in the nonmandated counties.
‘Although rates were considerably higher in mandated counties than in nonmandated counties by the executive order, rates in mandated counties declined markedly after July 3, compared with those in nonmandated counties,’ the authors wrote.
‘Kansas counties that had mask mandates in place appear to have mitigated the transmission of COVID-19, whereas counties that did not have mask mandates continued to experience increases in cases.’
The researchers added that the findings are consistent with drops in coronavirus cases seen in 15 states where masks were required in comparison with states that did not issue the mandate.
Meanwhile, the state has just set aside $1.5 million of its federal coronavirus relief funds for television, radio, print and social media ads promoting masks that are set to start before Thanksgiving and run into January or longer.
State officials believe private funding could follow later.
But some officials who’d like to see more people wearing masks, particularly in rural areas, worry that politics are driving resistance too much for the new campaign to be effective.
Others suggest that people are already bombarded with pro-mask messages and that new ones won’t get much attention.
‘I think anything we can do to increase the prevalence of mask-wearing is generally a good thing, but I worry that folks have been saturated with the message and any further increase in compliance is probably going to depend on some type of enforcement action,’ said Phil Hanes-Smith, county administrator in Saline County in central Kansas.
‘Hopefully I’m wrong.’