Do Mask Mandates Work?

Much has been written, pro and con, on the effectiveness of mask mandates in stopping or slowing the spread of covid. Various experiments have purported to show that masks can work; I criticized one such product by the Mayo Clinic here. In my opinion, the most persuasive approach is to chart covid cases, or hospitalizations, before and after dates when mask mandates went into effect, or were rescinded. I have seen many such charts and have never been able to discern a pattern where masks have a material effect.

Our friend Kevin Roche has charted the impact of Minnesota’s mask mandate at Healthy Skeptic. Minnesota is a good test case because Minnesotans tend to be compliant, if not downright ovine. If you tell us to wear masks, we will mask up to the last man. As Kevin writes:

Throughout this period Minnesota had one of the highest mask-wearing rates in the nation, most of the time over 90%.

So did the mask mandate work? This chart says it all. Click to enlarge:

Kevin explains:

Here is a chart showing the date the mandate was enacted. At that time the state said it would take two weeks to work, but later amended that to four weeks. So we labeled four weeks later, see the big drop? Me either. See the huge spike while mask wearing was 90% plus. And then there is the date the mandate finally expired. Kind of ironic how the mask mandate didn’t work to reduce cases until the mandate was ended, or is that paradoxical? You will note that at no time during the mandate were cases ever lower than before the mandate. And as I constantly said, what really matters is mask wearing. Throughout this period Minnesota had one of the highest mask-wearing rates in the nation, most of the time over 90%. Yeah those masks worked great, as virus collection devices.

Of course, mask nazis can assert that if it hadn’t been for the mask mandate, the numbers would have been even worse. But there is zero empirical basis for such a claim, which is pretty much the lowest form of argument.

Some states and municipalities are now re-instituting mask mandates. That is the weird thing about public policy in general: failure rarely discredits a policy. Far more likely, failure will lead to calls to double down or reinstate the policy that didn’t work the first time. I don’t know what to do about this, except try to get voters to be smarter.