When Kansas Governor Laura Kelly issued a new statewide mask mandate in November, 38 counties adopted it, 43 counties rejected her mandate, and 24 counties continued their enforcement of her July mandate.  But 17 weeks later, the mask mandates show almost no impact on COVID case growth.

As of March 22, KDHE data shows the counties without a mandate added 5,441 cases per 100,000 of population since November 23.  The counties that had a mandate in effect since July added 5,439 cases; that difference of just two cases over 17 weeks in 43 counties is virtually unnoticeable.

Seven of the 38 counties that adopted Kelly’s November mandate dropped them in late December and January according to the Kansas Association of Counties.  Those counties added 5,425 cases per 100,000 of population through March 22.  The 31 counties that still have the mandate in effect added 5,341 cases per 100,000 of population.

Those 31 counties had just a 100-case difference over 17 weeks; that’s about six fewer cases per week or only .019 cases per week for each of those 31 counties.

Again, that’s a distinction without a difference.

The chart below tracks the cumulative change over time.  Ironically, the counties that adopted a mask mandate in November but later rescinded them (the green line) had the greatest COVID case increase through mid-February.  The red line represents the counties that had mask mandates in effect since July.

Counties that adopted mandates in November and still have them in effect as of March 22 are represented by the blue line.  Case growth in those 31 counties mirrored the growth in counties without a mandate (the yellow line) until early February; case growth was a little slower for about a month but then grew faster than the no-mandate counties over the last two weeks.

Last October, the Sentinel found similar results comparing counties with and without mask mandates.  Between July 6 and October 5, the counties with mask mandates added 1,757 cases per 100,000 of population; that was 18% more than the 1,492 cases added in counties without mandates.

To be clear, this analysis is not about the efficacy of wearing masks; rather, it shows that mask mandates had no real impact on COVID case growth.

Many people wear masks regardless of mandates

Part of the reason that mandates have had no appreciable difference on case growth is that large numbers of people still wear masks in the absence of a mandate.  Surveys also show that a considerable number of people in counties with mask mandates don’t always wear a mask.

Michael Austin, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Government as Kansas Policy Institute, wrote about the results of a New York Times report last July.  It showed that 43.5% of people in Kansas counties without a mask mandate said they always wore a mask, compared to 57% in the counties with mandates; 21.6% of people in counties without mandates said they frequently wore masks, whereas 22.6% frequently wear masks in counties with mandates.

The Kansas Speaks Survey, from Fort Hays State, further corroborates these findings. The survey conducted in late September found that “93.5% of respondents wore a mask or face covering in stores or other businesses all or most of the time in the past month.”  The survey covered the entire state of Kansas, not just the counties with mandates in effect.

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