KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As Kansas counties decide how to respond to Gov. Laura Kelly's new statewide mask order, a new study shows counties that adopted the governor's first mandate this summer experienced a drop in COVID-19 cases.
Among counties with an order, the seven-day rolling average of new cases dropped on average 6% in the month and a half following the mandate. Meanwhile, cases in counties without a mask requirement saw on average a 100% increase.
The analysis — conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment — was published Friday in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
"Kansas counties that had mask mandates in place appear to have mitigated the transmission of COVID-19, whereas counties that did not have mask mandates continued to experience increases in cases," the study says.
The findings come as Kelly is emphasizing masks in the fight against the latest wave of COVID-19, which is filling hospitals across the state. Cases have surged to unprecedented levels in Kansas and are now translating into rising hospitalizations.
The Democratic governor's new order goes into effect on Wednesday, with the delay designed to encourage counties to adopt their own mask orders. Counties will be allowed to keep their own orders once the statewide mandate goes into effect. Local leaders also have the option of opting out of the order, just as they did in July.
Kelly is also launching a public campaign to encourage mask use and other COVID-19 precautions and rolling out expanded testing across the state.
"I am committed to an all-of-the-above COVID mitigation strategy," Kelly said Friday.
Kansas has recorded an additional 5,939 COVID-19 cases and 84 deaths since Wednesday, KDHE Secretary Lee Norman said Friday. Current hospitalizations hit an all-time peak of 1,039 on Thursday, according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project.
The CDC report adds to a growing body of analysis suggesting the mask order this summer helped hold down case growth in counties that followed it. Research by the University of Kansas Institute for Policy and Social Research also found that in the wake of the July order, mask counties held cases flat while no-mask counties saw growing numbers.
The CDC-KDHE analysis looked at the 24 counties that had a mask mandate as of Aug. 11 and examined case rates between June 1 and Aug. 23. The study found that while case rates were higher in mandate counties than in non-mandate counties, the rates in counties with mandate fell "markedly" after July 3, compared to non-mandate counties.
The study acknowledges that it didn't account for the effect of cities with mask orders in non-mask counties. But it also said the findings were consistent with other states that have required masks.
"The decrease in cases among mandated counties and the continued increase in cases in nonmandated counties adds to the evidence supporting the importance of wearing masks and implementing policies requiring their use to mitigate the spread of (COVID-19)," the study says.
As case counts soar, Republicans have been more muted in their opposition to the new mandate compared to the summer. During a briefing for top lawmakers on Friday, no one offered criticism.
In written statements, some lawmakers have expressed personal opposition to mandates while making clear the choice rests with individual counties. "The decision is still in their hands and I will always believe statewide restrictions aren't the answer," Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said.
Health leaders have been encouraging mask use for months. David Wild, vice president of performance improvement at the University of Kansas Health System, said Friday that in general, "anything we can do that increases adherence to masking across our state will be beneficial for all of us."(c)2020 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC