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Tennessee counties without mask mandates have higher COVID-19 death toll: Vanderbilt

COVID-19 Deaths in Tennessee and Adoption of Mask Requirements (VUMC){p}{/p}
COVID-19 Deaths in Tennessee and Adoption of Mask Requirements (VUMC)

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Tennessee counties without mask mandates have a higher COVID-19 death toll per capita, according to a new analysis from Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC).

Areas that adopted early face covering requirements over the summer have a substantially lower death rate compared to those who didn't implement one, the hospital's Department of Health Policy says. While deaths were initially higher in these counties who adopted mandates, once the requirement was put in place the death rate began to decline.

ALSO SEE: Tennessee leaders try to balance COVID-19 response and economic resurgence

As of Monday, 3,610 Tennesseans have died from coronavirus and about 63% of people in the state are under a mask mandate while 37% live in are area where there was never a face covering requirement or it has expired. Researchers say about 80% of Tennesseans are reporting they are wearing masks, although it may be inconsistent, Carnegie Mellon University notes.

“This analysis shows that strategies, including but not limited to masking while in contact with others, can have real impact on people’s lives,” John Graves, Ph.D., Director of the Center, said. “Mask mandates are associated with greater mask wearing and other behaviors like limiting close contacts with others, and the combined impact is clear and substantial.”

VUMC based its analysis on deaths by date, not the date deaths were reported, which it says can lag behind by several weeks. They say that this picture of COVID-19 deaths is through the beginning of October and those deaths are associated to September cases.

“Deaths are a lagging indicator, following increases in cases and then hospitalizations, so we expect any intervention such as a mask requirement to take some time to demonstrate effectiveness. Rising rates of COVID-19 are a big ship to turn, and it is important to act early enough to be effective,” McPheeters said.

This is before the Volunteer State's recent surge in cases, with all time high coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations have been reports.

The new analysis comes only two weeks after Vanderbilt researchers also tied a larger increase in hospitalizations to areas with mask mandates.

Dr. Lisa Piercey, Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner, says cases, hospitalizations and deaths attributed to COVID-19 are all increasing. It's a spike she hasn't seen since July and August, but one she expects to eventually exceed that.

ALSO SEE: Commissioner: 'We have to learn to live with this,' shutting down economy non-negotiable

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and federal and state health experts are warning against large gatherings.

“Individuals may not understand the risk of exposure to friends and family and may ‘let down their guard’ in situations where they are meeting in small groups with close contacts,” the researchers concluded. “Mask ordinances demonstrate leadership by sending a clear signal that behavior must change to mitigate spread of the virus.”

ALSO SEE: More than half of Americans still plan to travel for Thanksgiving amid pandemic

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