Show Me State governor hid data showing that masks work

Gov. Mike Parson standing in front of a podium at a press conference.
Enlarge / Gov. Mike Parson at a press conference on May 29, 2019, in Jefferson City, Missouri.

As the delta wave rose in Missouri last summer, much of the state remained unmasked. Four jurisdictions, though, restored their mask mandates, creating a natural experiment that was studied by the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services. It confirmed that, in cities and counties with mandates, masks significantly reduced infections and deaths from COVID.

Yet Gov. Mike Parson’s office, which had requested the data, kept it hidden from the public, according to a new report from the Missouri Independent.

The data was initially requested by Alex Tuttle, Gov. Parson’s legislative liaison for DHSS, on November 1, 2021. “Can you provide examples of local mandates and how those mandates impacted the spread of COVID in those areas?” he wrote.

In just 48 hours, DHSS had an answer for him. “I think we can say with great confidence reviewing the public health literature and then looking at the results in your study that communities where masks were required had a lower positivity rate per 100,000 and experienced lower death rates,” DHSS Director Donald Kauerauf wrote.

The delta variant was first detected in wastewater in Branson by researchers from the University of Missouri. As the more transmissible variant began to spread, it fueled a wave of new infections that spurred the state to issue a hotspot advisory on July 19. A week later, St. Louis and St. Louis County both declared mask mandates, and Kansas City and Jackson County followed soon after.

Before the delta wave hit, COVID rates were about equal across the state. But the curves started to diverge after the mandates went into effect. The rate of increase in new cases began to taper off in masked jurisdictions while the rate in unmasked areas continued rising before finally peaking in mid-August.

The analysis spanned the end of April 2021, just before delta was detected in the state, to the end of October 2021, just before the governor’s office requested the data. In that time, the average case rate in masked jurisdictions was 27 percent lower—15.8 cases per day per 100,000 residents compared with 21.7 cases per day per 100,000 residents. Death rates were similarly lower, with 0.2 per 100,000 residents per day in masked communities versus 0.28 per 100,000 residents per day in unmasked communities.

Though the governor’s office has been in possession of the data for a month, it hasn’t released any of it to the public. The DHSS’s analysis and related emails came to light after a Sunshine Law request by the Missouri Independent and the Documenting COVID-19 project.

Gov. Parson has railed against masks in the past. And despite the new evidence, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is continuing his lawsuits against St. Louis, St. Louis County, Kansas City, and Jackson County over their mask mandates, which he called “arbitrary, capricious, unlawful, and unconstitutional.”

Kansas City’s mandate expired on November 5 for everywhere but schools and school buses, and Jackson County’s legislature voted to end its mandate three weeks ago. St. Louis and St. Louis County have maintained their mandates in the face of Schmitt’s lawsuits.

“More than anything, [the data] confirms for us what our public health experts have been saying,” a spokesperson for St. Louis Mayor Tishuara Jones told the Missouri Independent. “Masks are an effective tool for reducing community transmission.”

Source: Ars Technica

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