The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a report Friday reiterated messaging that mask mandates and limiting on-premises dining can reduce coronavirus spread. During a White House briefing Friday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the report serves as a warning against lifting the measures too early.
The health agency examined county-level data on coronavirus cases and deaths from March to December 2020, in accordance with fluctuations in mask mandates and business restrictions. The CDC noted about 74% of 3,142 U.S. counties had mask mandates during the time under study, and 98% of counties saw reopenings for on-premises dining.
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“Mask mandates were associated with statistically significant decreases in county-level daily COVID-19 case and death growth rates within 20 days of implementation,” the report reads. “Allowing on-premises restaurant dining was associated with increases in county-level case and death growth rates within 41–80 days after reopening.”
More specifically, allowing on-premises dining at restaurants “was associated with 0.9, 1.2, and 1.1 percentage point increases in the case growth rate 41–60, 61–80, and 81–100 days, respectively, after restrictions were lifted,” per the report.
Meanwhile, mask mandates were tied to a 0.5 percentage point decline in daily case growth rates (0.7 decrease for deaths) within 20 days, decreasing by about 1.8 and 1.9 total percentage points within 100 days, respectively.
“This report is a critical reminder that with the current levels of COVID-19 in communities and the continued spread of more transmissible virus variants, which have now been detected in 48 states, strictly following prevention measures remain essential for putting an end to this pandemic,” Walensky said. “It also serves as a warning about premature lifting these prevention measures.”
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The findings come after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently announced he will rescind many of the state’s COVID-19 mandates next week, noting vaccine advances and a reduction in the number of statewide cases. Meanwhile, Mississippi lifted all county mask mandates and allowed businesses to run at full capacity, with Gov. Tate Reeves citing declines in hospitalizations and case numbers.
The CDC report had a few limitations, such as not accounting for physical distancing recommendations and other policies, compliance and enforcement. Additionally, the CDC report noted that the “analysis did not differentiate between indoor and outdoor dining, adequacy of ventilation, and adherence to physical distancing and occupancy requirements.”
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Walensky during the White House press briefing added that the highly anticipated CDC guidance on practices considered safe for those who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus is still in the works.
“CDC is working to assure that the communication we release on this guidance [is] clear and that the American public can act on them,” Walensky said. “We are making sure and taking the time to get this right, and we will be releasing this guidance soon.”