Missouri commissioned, then buried, a report that found mask mandates likely save lives

The office of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) asked the state health department on Nov. 1 to study how mask mandates affected COVID-19 numbers in the state, and the health department responded Nov. 3 that its analysis found they saved lives and reduced the spread of the coronavirus. But that analysis wasn't made public until nonprofit news organizations obtained it through a public records request, The New York Times reports.

The Missouri Independent reported Wednesday that the health department's analysis found lower infection and death rates in the four areas of Missouri with mask mandates — St. Louis, St. Louis County, Kansas City, and Jackson County — from the end of April until the end of October, the peak of the state's Delta wave.

There are a number of variables that affect infection and death numbers, but "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," state Health Department director Donald Kauerauf told Parson in a Nov. 3 email obtained by the Independent.

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The Independent's analysis found that the "masked" areas had 15.8 new COVID-19 cases a day for every 100,000 residents, versus 21.7 cases per 100,000 residents in the areas with no mask mandates, and less frequent deaths.

Parson responded to the Independent's report by attacking the reporter, calling the article "purposefully misleading," and suggesting Kauerauf also opposes mask mandates. "The governor's statement did not explain why his office chose not to publish the analysis it had requested," the Times notes.

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Kauerauf hasn't publicly commented on the report, but in his first remarks as state health director in September, he said from "everything I've read, everything I've seen: masks work." A global study published Nov. 18 in the British Medical Journal found that mask-wearing reduces COVID-19 incidence by 53 percent, making it the single most effective public health measure.

St. Louis and St. Louis County still have mask mandates in place, but Kansas City and Jackson County ended theirs in early November. "In Missouri, new cases have risen from a daily average of about 1,000 in early November to more than 2,000 this month, and hospitalizations are up 32 percent over the past 14 days," the Times reports. "More than 15,540 people have died from COVID-19 in Missouri."

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