A Center for Disease Control and Prevention report released Friday found that the effects of mask mandates and restaurant restrictions on coronavirus cases and deaths were smaller than people thought.
The CDC examined county cases and deaths from March to December 2020 in the first 100 days after masks were mandated and restaurants could reopen.
Counties that issued mask mandates saw cases drop by half a percentage point in the first 20 days of the mandate. Deaths dropped by 0.7 percentage points during the same time period.
The trend continued over time but topped at a 1.8 percentage point decline between days 81 and 100. Deaths dropped 1.9 percentage points between the same number of days.
Reopening restaurants, on the other hand, had no effect on cases and deaths in the first 40 days.
But in days 41-60, cases grew by 0.9 percentage points and deaths grew by 1.1 percentage points.
Between days 81 and 100, cases and deaths continued to climb, with cases growing by 1.1 percentage points and deaths growing by 3 percentage points.
“Several factors might explain this observation. Even though prohibition of on-premises restaurant dining was lifted, restaurants were not required to open and might have delayed reopening,” the CDC reported.
“In addition, potential restaurant patrons might have been more cautious when restaurants initially reopened for on-premises dining but might have been more likely to dine at restaurants as time passed.”
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The CDC said that further studies are needed to assess the effect of a multicomponent mitigation strategy as well as the delayed increase in case and death growth rates.
The agency acknowledged three limitations to the study. The models did not control any other policies that could affect case and death rates, like other business closures and stay-at-home orders.
The report also could not measure if people complied with the policies or if they were enforced in some way.
“Finally, the analysis did not differentiate between indoor and outdoor dining, adequacy of ventilation, and adherence to physical distancing and occupancy requirements,” the report read.
The CDC concluded that mask mandates and prohibition of on-premises restaurant dining have the potential to slow the spread of COVID-19, especially when they are paired with other health strategies.
The researchers said that these findings will be important as communities battle highly transmissible coronavirus variants, CNBC reported.
“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 followed prevention measures remain essential for putting an end to this pandemic,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House Covid-19 press briefing on Friday.
“It also serves as a warning about prematurely lifting these prevention measures.”
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