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KU study finds masks help prevent spread of COVID-19

Published: Oct. 30, 2020 at 6:10 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A new study by the University of Kansas takes a closer look at the effectiveness of wearing masks.

It compares Kansas counties with mask mandates to those without and ultimately found that masks work in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Donna Ginther, KU Professor of Economics and co-author of the study ‘Do Face Masks Matter in Kansas’, said their research began in July.

“When the governor established the mask policy in July, but several counties opted out, that created a natural experiment where we had the mask counties as the treatment group, and the non-mask counties as the control group," she said.

82 of the state’s 105 counties have no mask mandate.

Ginther said they collected data from each county using the daily reported cases of COVID-19.

“Cases in county’s with a mask mandate were flat starting about mid-August," she continued saying, "Cases in the non-mask counties just went straight up.”

The study also took into account whether the mandates changed people’s behavior.

“Mask mandate counties were more likely to stay home, but it didn’t change after the mandates," Ginther added, "Their mobility actually increased slightly after July, so you don’t see a change in how people are moving, which to me suggests that it’s the mask and not the moving around that really effected the outcome.”

Overall the study finds masks slow the spread of the virus by 50%.

“When you compare mask counties that always wear masks who started on July 3rd, to counties that never wore masks, there’s a 50% reduction in growth rate," Ginther said, "That suggests that wearing a mask can help prevent the spread of COVID.”

She said there’s also a connection between mask wearing and reopening the economy.

“If you wear a mask and go out in public, you can have more economic activity than if COVID is raging uncontrolled in your community," Ginther said.

She hopes the study will help Kansans be more informed adding, “I think it’s part of the information that policy makers need to have in order to make informed decisions and for the public to make an informed decision.”

Following the study’s results, a spokesperson for Governor Laura Kelly (D-Kansas) sent a statement to 13 NEWS saying, “Masks work. This is why Governor Kelly has urged counties to adopt her mask requirement. This is how we can keep each other safe, keep our kids in school, and keep our businesses open.”

The Shawnee County Health Department echoed that saying, “There are hundreds of studies showing evidence of the mitigation of COVID-19 due to proper mask wear. A unified front focusing on wearing your mask, washing your hands, and watching your distance will be important to avoid any future restrictions.”

The study has not yet been published, but you can view Dr. Ginther’s presentation here.

The slideshow is also posted on the KU Institute for Policy & Social Research website.

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