Health

Do mask mandates work?

Florida, for example, which accounted for more than 20 percent of the Covid-19 cases reported in the United States last week, has cut its case reporting to once a week and no longer shares test data or deaths by county. The C.D.C. has a map that shows a summary of Covid-19 data for the nation, but it is less detailed than what states usually reported.

At this stage of the pandemic, state and local governments should provide more, not less, data. At a minimum, you should publish the frequency and demographic breakdown of cases, tests, hospital admissions and deaths, and vaccinations. And they should do that every day.

County level data is useful, but zip code or census level data is even better. Los Angeles County, for example, was able to vaccinate more than 70 percent of eligible adults, but that statistic hides the fact that some parts of the county have much lower vaccination coverage. Highly localized data will help people better understand the specific risks in their place of residence and work and the need for mask recommendations.

At the same time, health authorities should continue to provide data showing the benefits of vaccines. Without them, experts could inadvertently send out the signal that masks are a suitable alternative to vaccines. A breakdown of cases and hospital admissions by vaccination status should be reported regularly. This will also help the experts monitor how well the vaccines continue to prevent serious diseases.

Local experts should provide people with the metrics they use – like infections or vaccinations – to help them decide when to stop using masks. This underscores why the masks are back in the first place and gives hope to those who don't like to wear them.

Because vaccines provide ongoing protection against serious illness, linking masking requirements with reasonable targets for vaccination coverage and acceptable hospital admissions provides a better view of progress than case numbers, which can fluctuate.

Everyone is tired of the pandemic. Vaccines offer the way out, but the United States hasn't convinced enough Americans of them. The nation cannot simply revert to the broad-based tactics used during previous climbs and await compliance. It must be made explicitly clear to the public how measures such as mask requirements can reduce transmission and serve as an incentive for vaccinations.

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