Researchers say wearing face masks in public prevented between 230,000 and 450,000 new cases of COVID-19 infections during a five-week period this spring, strengthening the argument of those in favor of mandatory face masks for anyone out in public in the United States.
The study, published in the journal Health Affairs, said wearing face masks reduced the daily number of coronavirus infections by as much as 2% in states that require masks to be worn in public.
The argument about the need to wear face masks has been a muddled one. Originally, U.S. health officials told people not to wear masks, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with the U.S. surgeon general changed course in April and recommended that masks be worn in public to help slow the transmission of COVID-19.
Despite the recommendations, the decision to require that masks be worn is left to the states. There is no federal mandate requiring people to wear a mask or face cover when out in public.
Five months after the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus was reported in the U.S., 18 states and an increasing number of larger cities and counties have now implemented laws requiring face coverings in public.
North Carolina, Washington and Nevada this week became the latest to join that list.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday he was implementing a statewide mandate requiring face coverings for most everyone out in public. Masks will be required in any indoor public space, as well as outdoors if social distancing can’t be maintained, Inslee’s order said.
On Wednesday, both North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered people in their states to wear face coverings when out in public. Sisolak said the order includes those gambling in Las Vegas casinos.
Cooper said people with medical conditions and children under 11 are exempt from the order as are those who are walking or otherwise exercising outside when not within six feet of others. Cooper also announced that the state will remain in phase two of reopening for another two weeks as the state has seen an increase in COVIC-19 cases.
“Overwhelming evidence that is growing by the week shows that wearing a face covering can greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially from people who have it and don’t know it yet it,” Cooper said during a press conference. “Face coverings are a simple way to control this virus.”
The requirements for masks come as increases in confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus are being seen in more states. More than 2.3 million people in the United States have been confirmed to have contracted the virus, and over 120,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had banned local governments from fining those who do not wear a mask, but this week, following an increase in cases in Texas, suggested that people out in public should wear a mask.
“We want to make sure that everyone reinforces the best safe practices of wearing a mask, hand sanitization, maintaining safe distance, but importantly, because the spread is so rampant right now, there’s never a reason for you to have to leave your home,” Abbott said in an interview Tuesday. “Unless you do need to go out, the safest place for you is at your home.”
In addition to state and local governments requiring masks be worn, many retailers, ride-hailing services and airlines are now requiring employees and customers wear masks.
As of Thursday, these states require that face coverings be worn in public places:
12. New Jersey
13. New Mexico
14. New York
15. North Carolina
17. Rhode Island
The District of Columbia also requires face masks be worn in public.