Coronavirus Latest News USA: CDC Links Lack of Masks to Virus Spread in the USA

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Coronavirus Latest News Today on COVID-19:
Easing Mask Mandates and Restaurant Re-Openings Cause of Virus Spread in the USA

Easing mask mandates and restaurant re-openings have led to an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that comes as the agency urges states not to aggressively lift health restrictions. 

According to CDC’s study, which examined county data between last March and December 2020, mask mandates implemented by local governments were able to slow the spread of the virus, starting around 20 days after implementation. The CDC recommended a combination of evidence-based strategies to reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Because the virus is predominantly transmitted by inhaling respiratory droplets from infected people, universal mask use can help reduce transmission. 

“Allowing on-premises restaurant dining was associated with an increase in daily COVID-19 case growth rates 41–100 days after implementation and an increase in daily death growth rates 61–100 days after implementation,” wrote the researchers from the CDC. “Mask mandates and restricting any on-premises dining at restaurants can help limit community transmission of COVID-19 and reduce case and death growth rates.”

Researchers found that mask requirements were linked with a more than 1% point decrease in the daily growth rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths 20 days after implementation. According to the study, dining at restaurants was linked with a 0.9, 1.2, and 1.1% point increase in the case growth rate 41 – 60 to 80 and 81 to 100 days, respectively, after restrictions were lifted. 

The researchers further added that these measures will be crucial to prevent highly transmissible coronavirus variants from spreading unrelentingly, which could cause more cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House Covid-19 press briefing on Friday that, “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.” Walensky adds, “It also serves as a warning about prematurely lifting these prevention measures.”

CDC Links Lack of Mask Mandates to Virus Spread in the USA

“Starting in April, 39 states and the District of Columbia issued mask mandates in 2020. Reducing person-to-person interactions by avoiding nonessential shared spaces, such as restaurants, where interactions are typically unmasked and physical distancing (≥6 ft) is difficult to maintain, can also decrease transmission. In March and April 2020, 49 states and DC prohibited any on-premises dining at restaurants, but by mid-June, all states and DC had lifted these restrictions. To examine the association of state-issued mask mandates and allowing on-premises restaurant dining with COVID-19 cases and deaths during March 1–December 31, 2020, county-level data on mask mandates and restaurant re-openings were compared with county-level changes in COVID-19 case and death growth rates relative to the mandate implementation and reopening dates. 

Mask mandates were associated with decreases in daily COVID-19 case and death growth rates 1–20, 21–40, 41–60, 61–80, and 81–100 days after implementation. Allowing any on-premises dining at restaurants was associated with increases in daily COVID-19 case growth rates 41–60, 61–80, and 81–100 days after reopening, and increases in daily COVID-19 death growth rates 61–80 and 81–100 days after reopening.

Implementing mask mandates was associated with reduced SARS-CoV-2 transmission, whereas reopening restaurants for on-premises dining was associated with increased transmission. Policies that require universal mask use and restrict any on-premises restaurant dining are important components of a comprehensive strategy to reduce exposure to and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (1). Such efforts are increasingly important given the emergence of highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants in the United States.

Mask mandates were associated with statistically significant decreases in county-level daily COVID-19 case and death growth rates within 20 days of implementation. Allowing on-premises restaurant dining was associated with increases in county-level case and death growth rates within 41–80 days after reopening. State mask mandates and prohibiting on-premises dining at restaurants help limit potential exposure to SARS-CoV-2, reducing community transmission of COVID-19.

Studies have confirmed the effectiveness of community mitigation measures in reducing the prevalence of COVID-19. Mask mandates are associated with reductions in COVID-19 case and hospitalization growth rates, whereas reopening on-premises dining at restaurants, a known risk factor associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection, is associated with increased COVID-19 cases and deaths, particularly in the absence of mask mandates. The current study builds upon this evidence by accounting for county-level variation in state-issued mitigation measures and highlights the importance of a comprehensive strategy to decrease exposure to and transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Prohibiting on-premises restaurant dining might assist in limiting potential exposure to SARS-CoV-2; however, such orders might disrupt daily life and have an adverse impact on the economy and the food services industry. If on-premises restaurant dining options are not prohibited, CDC offers considerations for operators and customers which can reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 in restaurant settings. COVID-19 case and death growth rates might also have increased because of persons engaging in close contact activities other than or in addition to on-premises restaurant dining in response to perceived reduced risk as a result of states allowing restaurants to reopen. Further studies are needed to assess the effect of a multicomponent community mitigation strategy on economic activity.

Increases in COVID-19 case and death growth rates were significantly associated with on-premises dining at restaurants after indoor or outdoor on-premises dining was allowed by the state for >40 days. 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. 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. Further analyses are necessary to evaluate the delayed increase in case and death growth rates.

The findings in this report are subject to at least three limitations. First, although models controlled for mask mandates, restaurant and bar closures, stay-at-home orders, and gathering bans, the models did not control for other policies that might affect case and death rates, including other types of business closures, physical distancing recommendations, policies issued by localities, and variances granted by states to certain counties if variances were not made publicly available. Second, compliance with and enforcement of policies were not measured. Finally, the analysis did not differentiate between indoor and outdoor dining, adequacy of ventilation, and adherence to physical distancing and occupancy requirements.

Community mitigation measures can help reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. In this study, mask mandates were associated with reductions in COVID-19 case and death growth rates within 20 days, whereas allowing on-premises dining at restaurants was associated with increases in COVID-19 case and death growth rates after 40 days. With the emergence of more transmissible COVID-19 variants, community mitigation measures are increasingly important as part of a larger strategy to decrease exposure to and reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Community mitigation policies, such as state-issued mask mandates and prohibition of on-premises restaurant dining, have the potential to slow the spread of COVID-19, especially if implemented with other public health strategies.”

Read the CDC’s full study here.

Warnings from Health Officials

In recent weeks, top United States health officials have repeatedly warned that the emergence of new variants, especially the strain first identified in the United Kingdom known as B.1.1.7., stand to reverse the country’s success in tamping down its COVID-19 outbreak. 

The U.S. is reporting a daily average of roughly 62,950 new cases over the last week, a significant drop compared with the peak of about 250,000 daily cases the U.S. reported in January, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

However, the decrease in cases has since lost steam, a concerning trend that has left infections at a very high level that could rebound if the variants are allowed to take hold, top health officials warn. Walensky said, “There’s a light at the end of this tunnel, but we must be prepared for the fact that the road ahead may not be smooth.”

Some states have forged ahead and reopened their economies anyway, despite warnings from the Biden administration, including White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci. They advised local leaders to wait a few more weeks until cases show signs of dropping again and more vaccines are administered. Fauci told CNN on Wednesday when asked about states lifting their COVID-19 restrictions, “I don’t know why they’re doing it, but it’s certainly, from a public health standpoint, ill-advised.” The scene is reminiscent of last summer when states started to pull back restrictions too soon, followed by an increase of cases across America’s Sun Belt. “What we don’t need right now is another surge,” Fauci said.

This week, Connecticut, Mississippi, and Texas moved to allow businesses to resume operations at full capacity in their states. Both Texas and Mississippi also decided to lift their statewide mask mandates, though the states’ governors advised residents to continue to covering their face.

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