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Mandate masks, close bars

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A new CDC study re-affirms what should already be obvious: mask mandates are effective (while imposing only trivial costs,) and indoor dining should not be permitted until the virus is suppressed:

As officials in Texas and Mississippi lifted statewide mask mandates, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered fresh evidence of the importance of mask use in a new study on Friday. Wearing masks, the study reported, was linked to fewer infections with the coronavirus and Covid-19 deaths in counties across the United States.

The researchers also found that counties opening restaurants for on-premises dining — indoors or outdoors — saw a rise in daily infections about six weeks later, and an increase in Covid-19 death rates about two months later.

The study does not prove cause and effect, but the findings square with other research showing that masks prevent infection and that indoor spaces foster the spread of the virus through aerosols, tiny respiratory particles that linger in the air.

“You have decreases in cases and deaths when you wear masks, and you have increases in cases and deaths when you have in-person restaurant dining,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said on Friday. “And so we would advocate for policies, certainly while we’re at this plateau of a high number of cases, that would listen to that public health science.”

The findings come as city and state officials nationwide grapple with growing pressure to reopen schools and businesses amid falling rates of new cases and deaths. Officials have recently allowed for limited indoor dining in New York City. And on Thursday, Connecticut’s governor said would be ending capacity limits later this month on restaurants, gyms and offices. Masks remain required in both places.

Coronavirus cases and deaths are down significantly across the country compared to the devastating peaks around the holidays. But as more cases of worrisome virus variants have been detected and the U.S. vaccination campaign continues, President Biden and his team have stressed in recent days that now is not the time for Americans to relax, particularly on wearing masks.

And, again, the fact that vaccines will be available to anyone who wants one in a matter of weeks makes premature revocation of public health measures even less defensible than they would be otherwise.

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