Vanderbilt Analysis Finds COVID Is Striking Hardest In Tennessee Where Masks Aren’t Required

Oct 29, 2020

In Nashville, public health workers have been helping to enforce Davidson County's mask mandate, which began at the first of July and has no end date.
Credit Metro Public Health Dept.

A new analysis by Vanderbilt University’s Department of Health Policy finds a link between lower hospitalizations and mask mandates in Tennessee.

Nearly every part of the state has seen hospitalizations grow this month, but the most dramatic growth is in hospitals that pull at least three-quarters of their patients from places without mask requirements. They have nearly four times the patients as in early July.

For hospitals where most patients live under a mask mandate, Vanderbilt’s analysis finds the number of patients with COVID is basically the same as in early July.

“We don’t want to necessarily attribute this to masking alone,” says Vanderbilt health economist John Graves. “But it is pretty clear that there are pretty wide variances across areas.”

  Graves notes that the counties with the longest-standing mask mandates — Davidson and Shelby — have also taken other steps to prevent spread of the virus like limited in-person schooling and restrictions on bars.

The report published Tuesday comes as several counties have been reinstating their mask mandates. At this point, more than half the state’s population is under a mandate. But nearly one-third of the population lives where a facial covering has never been required.

Graves’ analysis doesn’t name particular hospitals. But Maury Regional in Columbia has more COVID patients than ever, with an ICU nearly full of just COVID patients. It’s in a county where the mayor has defiantly refused to require face coverings at points in the pandemic.

Now the hospital is calling for more help.

“The time has long passed for our community to take this virus seriously. We are seeing the impact of our community letting down their guard,” Maury Regional CEO Alan Watson said in a statement Friday. “We implore all Tennesseans to protect yourself and others by masking, social distancing and hand washing.”