Study: Mask mandates cut virus’ spread in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS (AP) – Mask mandates in St. Louis and St. Louis County slowed the spread of the coronavirus this summer when compared to neighboring counties that didn’t require face masks, a Saint Louis University study found.The study compared infections in St. Louis and St. Louis County beginning in July, when leaders in those communities began requiring masks, to neighboring Franklin, St. Charles and Jefferson counties, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday.

The study found average daily case growth was 44% less in St. Louis and St. Louis County compared to the neighboring counties three weeks after the metropolitan areas required masks. Twelve weeks after St. Louis-area mask mandates took effect, the average daily case growth was still 40% lower in those areas than in the other suburbs.

The study’s lead author, professor Enbal Shacham, told the newspaper the study has been submitted to an academic journal for publication and is being peer-reviewed.

A co-author of the study, St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force chief Dr. Alex Garza, pushed Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to require face masks throughout the state, despite the Republican’s repeated refusal to do so.

Parson has stressed personal responsibility as key to reducing the virus’ spread. He regularly encourages the use of face masks, social distancing and regular handwashing, though he often posts photos of himself mask-less around other people.

“We are past the time when individual behavior alone can address this disaster,” Garza said during a news briefing Friday. “The spread of cases are blanketing the state and no locale is safe anymore.”

The Saint Louis University study also found that mask mandates in the metropolitan areas reduced disparities in the virus’ impact on higher-risk communities by decreasing the spread in densely populated areas and among people of color.

Residents in middle- and high-income areas stayed home to limit their risk of infection, the study’s authors theorized. Mask mandates particularly helped protect people of color and city residents who were more likely to work essential jobs in grocery stores, health care and public transportation, and therefore couldn’t work from home.

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