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SLU Study Shows St. Louis, St. Louis County Mask Mandates Slowed Coronavirus Infections

File Photo | David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Epidemiologists at St Louis University say the rate of new coronavirus cases significantly decreased in St. Louis and St. Louis County after government officials began requiring people to wear masks in public.

The findings come from a preliminary study in which researchers studied coronavirus cases in St. Louis and St. Louis County and compared the data to that of St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin counties, which did not require masks.

Before St. Louis and St Louis County began requiring face coverings in July, the rates of new cases in all the counties were similar.

But three weeks after the city and county began requiring masks, their rate of new infections was 44% lower than those of the other counties, researchers said.

The findings are still in draft form and have not been peer-reviewed.

Doctors across Missouri are pleading with Gov. Mike Parson to issue a statewide mask mandate to help control the spread of the virus.

“If we were able to implement a wider mask mandate, we would have far fewer cases, and that would support our whole health system and our public health infrastructure,” said Dr. Enbal Shacham, study co-author and St. Louis University public health professor.

The coronavirus hascontinued to spread unchecked throughout the state, with close to 21% of coronavirus tests coming back positive, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

“There’s so much COVID that is happening and intrinsic throughout our community, throughout our state, we need something that will help reduce some of those infections,” Shacham said.

She expects to see more local and county leaders begin to require masks if the state doesn't issue a mandate, she said.

Franklin Countyrecently announcedit would require masks until at least Dec. 20.

Dr. Alex Garza, St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force commander, implored the state to issue a mask order earlier this month. Soon after, the Missouri Hospital Association made the same plea in an open letter to Parson.

On Friday, Garza said a statewide safer-at-home order was necessary to keep hospitals from reaching crisis levels of patients.

“I believe the only way we can knock this down in a decisive action is through policy change,” Garza said. “It will pay off in lives saved, and I don’t know what better bargain you have than that.”

Follow Sarah on Twitter @petit_smudge

Copyright 2020 St. Louis Public Radio

Sarah Fentem reports on sickness and health as part of St. Louis Public Radio’s news team. She previously spent five years reporting for different NPR stations in Indiana, immersing herself deep, deep into an insurance policy beat from which she may never fully recover. A longitme NPR listener, she grew up hearing WQUB in Quincy, Illinois, which is now owned by STLPR. She lives in the Kingshighway Hills neighborhood, and in her spare time likes to watch old sitcoms, meticulously clean and organize her home and go on outdoor adventures with her fiancé Elliot. She has a cat, Lil Rock, and a dog, Ginger.