Data out of California regarding the effectiveness of mask mandates in battling the delta variant of COVID-19 suggests that vaccines play a more prominent role than masks in slowing the spread of the pandemic.
That likely accounts for statistics that show Orange County, with no mask mandate, had a similar outcome to neighboring Los Angeles County, the first county in the state to reintroduce indoor mask requirements in response to the delta wave, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Hospitalization figures for the two counties gleaned from the California Department of Health and county health websites were the same, with 14 peak hospitalizations per 100,000 people.
Orange County actually had a lower case rate — five per 100,000 people — than Los Angeles County’s nine cases per 100,000 people.
Orange County and Los Angeles County had similar vaccination rates, at 63 percent and 69 percent, respectively.
What does it all mean?
In short, several variables make it difficult to determine if people are abiding by mask mandates in the same way that it’s hard to track people voluntarily wearing masks where it’s not required, and vaccines seem to be the more effective means of slowing the spread of the virus.
California has a robust vaccination program and the lowest per capita rate of COVID-19 cases at 42 per 100,000 residents, as reported by Healthline.
Vaccines could explain why San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura Counties, per the data, had very similar hospitalization rates despite different mask policies.
Gov. Gavin Newsom admitted as much last summer in implementing a statewide mask mandate in response to the delta surge.
“If we continue to get people vaccinated, that’ll be unnecessary, and this is the call that anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated, get vaccinated,” he said.
That’s not to say masks are wholly ineffective in the fight against COVID-19.
While not a panacea, the scientific consensus at the moment is that masking up has its place in reducing transmission of the respiratory virus that has claimed the lives of more than 700,000 Americans.
“The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected respiratory particles in both laboratory and clinical contexts,” a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America said.
“Public mask wearing is most effective at reducing spread of the virus when compliance is high.”
Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease physician at the University of California, San Francisco, told Nature in May that mask messaging should evolve as vaccination rates rise.
Officials should begin relaxing restrictions, she said, to give people hope and to motivate vaccination.
“We’re all over the map,” Gandhi said. “That’s been the problem this entire pandemic. We’ve been making it up as we go along.”
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