Study: Mask mandates and use not associated with slower state-level COVID-19 spread during surges

"There is inferential but not demonstrable evidence that masks reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission."

While masks may work in some settings, one study published May 25, 2021, shows mask mandates were not effective at slowing case growth rates.

NC DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen and NC Gov. Roy Cooper at a remotely held COVID news briefing.

In the body of the study, one summary section also stated that “mask mandates and use were poor predictors of COVID-19 spread in US states. Case growth was independent of mandates at low and high rates of community spread, and mask use did not predict case growth during the Summer or Fall-Winter waves.”

Mask mandate and use efficacy in state-level COVID-19 containment

Background: Containment of the COVID-19 pandemic requires evidence-based strategies to reduce transmission. Because COVID-19 can spread via respired droplets, many states have mandated mask use in public settings. Randomized control trials have not clearly demonstrated mask efficacy against respiratory viruses, and observational studies conflict on whether mask use predicts lower infection rates. We hypothesized that statewide mask mandates and mask use are associated with lower COVID-19 case growth rates in the United States.

Methods: We calculated total COVID-19 case growth and mask use for the continental United States with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. We estimated post18 mask mandate case growth in non-mandate states using median issuance dates of neighboring states with mandates.

Results: Case growth was not significantly different between mandate and non-mandated states at low or high transmission rates, and surges were equivocal. Mask use predicted lower case growth at low, but not high transmission rates. Growth rates were comparable between states in the first and last mask use quintiles adjusted for normalized total cases early in the pandemic and unadjusted after peak Fall-Winter infections. Mask use did not predict Summer 2020 case growth for non-Northeast states or Fall-Winter 2020 growth for all continental states.

Conclusions: Mask mandates and use are not associated with slower state-level COVID-19 spread during COVID25 19 growth surges. Containment requires future research and implementation of existing efficacious strategies.