The Missouri Department of Health found mask warrants to work, but did not release the results • Missouri Independent

Mask warrants saved lives and prevented COVID-19 infections in major cities in Missouri during the worst part of the wave delta variant, an analysis from the Department of Health and Seniors’ Services shows.

But the analysis, conducted at the request of Gov. Mike Parson’s office in early November, was never made public and was only obtained by The Missouri Independent and the Documenting the COVID-19 project after a Sunshine Law request to the department.

The study compared infection and death rates in St. Louis, St. Louis County, Kansas City, and Jackson County with the rest of the state. The new state health director Donald Kauerauf wrote in an email that the study results showed the effectiveness of mask warrants and forwarded it to Parson’s office.

The analysis was not included in material prepared by the ministry for cabinet meetings, according to the emails. Neither the Department of Health nor Parson’s office responded to requests for comment asking why the data was not shared publicly.

The comparison showed that infection rates in “masked” jurisdictions were higher than in the rest of the state in the six weeks leading up to the emergence of the delta variant. Case rates then fell below other regions as the surge gathered pace in late May and have remained lower since then.

State-wide data shows that from late April to late October, jurisdictions with mask warrants experienced an average of 15.8 cases per day per 100,000 population, compared to 21.7 cases per day for 100,000 inhabitants in unmasked communities.

The four jurisdictions imposed their mask mandates at the end of July and the beginning of August, as the wave of the delta variant reached its maximum.

Mask requirements remain in place in St. Louis and St. Louis County. The Jackson County legislature voted to end its requirement in early November, and the term in Kansas City ended on November 5, with the exception of schools and school buses.

There are a number of variables that impact infection and death rates, the health director wrote in an email Nov. 3. But the effectiveness of the masks is clear, he wrote.

“I think we can say with great confidence, looking at the public health literature, and then looking at the results of your study, that the communities where masks were needed had lower positivity rates per 100,000 and lower rates of positivity per 100,000. lower mortality, ”Kauerauf wrote.

Mask warrants have been one of the hottest political issues of the year, pitting the authority of local officials against the masked political opposition led by Republican state officials.

Parson has spoken several times against local mask warrants, calling them “FALSE” in a tweet and contributing to erosion of public trust. Attorney General Eric Schmitt went further by suing St. Louis, St. Louis County, Kansas City and Jackson County to block the enforcement of their mask warrants.

“Jackson County has imposed an illegal, arbitrary and capricious mask warrant that is not backed up by data or science,” the opening sentence of Schmitt’s lawsuit against the Jackson County states.

Schmitt also sued Columbia Public Schools to institute mask mandates.

The state’s analysis backs pressure from St. Louis to retain his mask tenure, said Nick Dunne, spokesperson for St. Louis mayor Tishaura Jones.

“More than anything, this confirms for us what our public health experts have said, that masks are an effective tool in reducing community transmission,” Dunne said.

Although Schmitt took legal action, Parson and the state health department allowed local courts to decide on health measures that were appropriate for their constituents, said Sam Page, St. Louis County executive, in a statement released Wednesday.

“This data shows that public health experts, the St. Louis Metropolitan Task Force and the St. Louis County Public Health Department are making good decisions to protect our community,” Page said.

Records show the scan was produced in response to a request from Alex Tuttle, Parson’s liaison with the health department.

“Can you provide examples of local mandates and the impact of those mandates on the spread of COVID in these areas? Tuttle wrote in an email sent Nov. 1 to Kauerauf.

The ministry completed the scan approximately 48 hours later.

Despite Parson’s opposition and Schmitt’s lawsuits, Kauerauf, supported masks to control the spread of the coronavirus during its first press conference.

“I’m counting (on) the CDC experts on this. Everything I’ve read, everything I’ve seen: masks work ”, Kauerauf said at his first press conference after starting his job in September.

The Independent and the Documenting COVID-19 project provided Schmitt’s office with comments emailed from Kauerauf and charts created by the health department. The analysis will not change his stance against mask warrants, spokesman Chris Nuelle wrote in an email.

“We dispute that premise and those graphics,” Nuelle wrote. “We have been clear that Missourians should have the right to make their own decisions and that government bureaucrats should not impose masks or vaccines. We will continue to fiercely advocate our lawsuits against the mask warrants in Missouri. “

Kansas City and Jackson County officials did not comment on the health department’s analysis.

Missouri is by no means an outlier in terms of the lack of a statewide mask policy or the discouragement of local governments from creating theirs; Missouri is one of six states that never implemented a statewide mask mandate during the pandemic.

But Missouri’s decision not to release public health data showing a demonstrable difference in COVID-19 infection and mortality in masked communities is notable and reflects the deep political polarization surrounding pandemic policies, an expert said. .

“It’s devastating to see what the governor of Missouri has done as mask policies reduce the spread of COVID-19 and would reduce the number of people who get sick and die in Missouri,” said Julia Raifman, assistant professor of health law, policy and policy. directorate at Boston University which oversees the COVID-19 U.S. State Policy Database. “It is devastating that policymakers fail to implement policies that would reduce the number of children growing up without their parents.”

The delta variant was first detected in Missouri in early May by researchers at the University of Missouri who analyze wastewater samples collected weekly. Since the arrival of the variant, the state’s health department has reported new infections for about 5.3% of all Missourians.

Infections were reported for about 5.1% of residents of the St. Louis Metropolitan Statistical Area, which has seven counties, tested positive during this period and about 5.7 percent of residents of the statistical area. Kansas City Metro, which has 10 counties.

But in three of the four jurisdictions with mask warrants, case rates were lower than other metro area jurisdictions. This was especially true in Saint-Louis and Saint-Louis County, where coronavirus infections representing less than 4% of the population have been reported since April 30.

In addition to the lower case rates, the health service analysis showed that masked jurisdictions also had fewer deaths per capita, an average of 0.2 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants each day from May 1 to October 30, compared with 0.28 deaths per day per 100,000 inhabitants. In other words, unmasked communities recorded one death per 100,000 every 3.5 days, compared to one death per 100,000 population every five days when mask warrants prevailed.

Schmitt’s lawsuits against all four jurisdictions remain active, despite actions in Kansas City and Jackson County to end warrants.

At a hearing Tuesday in Saint-Louis, a judge left the St. Louis County warrant in place but has scheduled a Dec. 9 hearing for further arguments, KTVI reported. St. Louis County Council declined to vote Tuesday night on an extension of the mask command, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

A major issue at Tuesday’s hearing was the impact of a ruling by Cole County Judge Daniel Green, who reigned last week that health orders designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 that were issued by local health departments violated the Missouri Constitution.

A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon on Kansas City’s motion to dismiss Schmitt’s lawsuit.

Documenting COVID-19 project, supported by Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation and MuckRock, collects and shares government documents related to the COVID-19 pandemic and works on investigative journalism projects with partner newsrooms.

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