Data: Masks appear to be slowing Tennessee hospitalizations

Friday, August 7, 2020, Vol. 44, No. 32

NASHVILLE (AP) — A Vanderbilt University analysis of daily COVID-19 hospitalization data in Tennessee shows a stark difference between counties with mask mandates and counties that do not require face coverings.

The Vanderbilt Department of Health Policy analyzed statewide hospital admissions and found that those in areas requiring most residents to wear masks recorded a 30% increase in new admissions in July, The Tennessean reported Monday. Hospitals in areas where most residents are not required to wear face coverings saw a 200% jump in the same time period, researchers said.

Large urban hospitals that treat a mix of patients were somewhere in the middle.

The Vanderbilt analysis did not fully attribute the decline in hospitalizations to mask mandates. Some places that require masks also have other public health orders that likely had an effect.

The Vanderbilt research did not distinguish the impact of one of these public health orders from the other, said Vanderbilt Associate Professor John Graves, a researcher on the project.

"We can't say for sure that masking is the reason this is happening because there are often other interventions in places like Nashville and Memphis where bars and restaurants are limited," Graves said in a statement. "But we do see a clear relationship between areas where masks are required and hospitalizations for the coronavirus."

Masks remain a source of debate in Tennessee. Gov. Bill Lee has encouraged Tennesseans to wear masks, but has rejected pleas for a statewide mandate. He empowered county mayors to make calls on whether to issue such orders.

There are mask mandates in 26 counties that contain about 68% of state residents, according to the Vanderbilt analysis.

"If the current rate of growth continues, hospitals serving patients from communities without mask orders could become stressed or overwhelmed," the Vanderbilt analysis stated.

In other virus news, data from the state Department of Education show school districts are using a hodgepodge of different educational models as schools begin opening across Tennessee.

A majority of districts are using some type of hybrid model, while at least 16 districts are fully in-person including the city of Cleveland, Union City, and Lewis and Coffee counties. Eight districts have said they will begin the school year with remote learning only. They include Davidson County but also some smaller counties like Fayette and Houston. Several counties had not yet reported their plans to the department.

Tennessee reported 1,001 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday and 38 new deaths, bringing the total number of deaths from COVID-19 in the state to at least 1,271.


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