COVID-19 death rates higher in TN counties that never mandated masks, Vanderbilt reports


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee has seen a spike in cases, deaths, and hospitalizations for COVID-19 over the last few weeks. The state reported record high deaths (899) and cases (64,533) in the month of October.

A new study released by Vanderbilt University on November 10 shows a correlation between mask-wearing and death rates. On average, Tennessee counties that haven’t instituted any sort of face-covering requirements have seen double the COVID-19 death rates, or more, compared with those that have had mandates.

The study breaks Tennessee’s 95 counties down into three groups.

  • Early Adopter counties (11): Counties that had mask mandates in place as of July 10.
  • Late Adopter counties (17): Counties that had mask mandates in place after July 10.
  • Never adopter counties (67): Counties that have never had mask mandates.
Tennessee’s COVID-19 Deaths based off groups. (Vanderbilt study)

Vanderbilt’s research found the early and late adopting counties saw declining death rates within a few weeks of requirements. Meanwhile, the counties with no requirements had increasing death rates.

The study shows patterns for the state over the past few months. Th early adopting counties had

higher death rates, on average, prior to the surge in cases in July. Researchers say this is consistent with the virus initially spreading rapidly in the more populated and urban areas of the state. But among the early adopting counties, which include most of the major metro counties in Tennessee, the study shows the death rate began to fall within a couple of weeks of the masking policies’ implementation.

The later adopting counties saw a rapid rise in the death rate leading into July which is nearly identical to the non-adopting counties rise. These counties, though, saw the death rate begin to fall after implementing face covering requirements.

The rise in non-adopting counties continued throughout Vanderbilt’s observation period.

Tennessee’s COVID-19 Deaths over time (Vanderbilt study)

As in Vanderbilt’s October 27 report on hospitalizations, university health officials stress that areas with masking requirements also have seen greater changes in other community behavior and many areas with requirements also have other virus mitigation strategies in place. “Masking policies are a useful proxy or indicator for these complementary behaviors but it must be underscored that the observed relationships between hospitalizations, deaths, and mask requirements is about a set of behaviors, including but not limited to masking,” the report states.


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