Saying more needs to be done to stop the rise of the Delta coronavirus variant, a group of experts from the New England states is calling for governors to impose “data-driven” mask mandates.
“We call on New England governors – and governors across the country – to implement data-driven indoor mask policies for everyone to manage the pandemic, so the pandemic does not continue to manage our lives, schools, labor market, and economy,” six doctors and public health researchers said in an opinion column in USA Today.
The group included members from Boston University, Dartmouth College, Yale University, Brown University, and Maine Medical Center.
The New England states have done a good job of getting people vaccinated, the experts said, but it isn’t enough to stop the Delta variant.
“Indoor mask policies are effective and complement vaccines to prevent infection in everyone, vaccinated or unvaccinated,” the column said.
The experts pointed to Nevada as a state that has a “smart, data-driven policy that guides counties in turning indoor mask policies on and off based on cases” and argued that “the data-driven approach is well suited to the New England region. The policy has something for everyone – it ensures indoor mask policies are time-limited to protect everyone when it’s most important to do so and allows people to take off masks indoors when it’s safer to do so.”
The Nevada policy links state mask requirements to US Centers for Disease Control mask recommendations, which currently call for universal masking in indoor public settings in all areas of “substantial” or “high transmission,” as determined by COVID-19 case and test positivity data.
Julia Raifman, an assistant professor of health law, policy, and management at the Boston University School of Public Health who was one of the authors of the column, said, “Having a policy that turns on during periods when conditions worsen and that turns off when things are more under control” is a “really smart approach.”
“I think we have seen the [New England] region be a real leader in COVID prevention, and we really congratulate the governors for everything they’ve achieved on vaccine delivery. We think it’s important the region continue to lead and show the country what good, smart COVID prevention policies and COVID management can look like,” she said.
“We don’t want to be subject to the whims of whatever the virus does next,” she said. “I think it’s very important that data-driven policies reduce the volatility of the virus and that also reduces economic volatility.”
“We can manage it, and I think New England governors are really prepared to do that just as they have excelled in vaccine delivery,” she said, while noting that she hoped all states would implement the measures.
Thank you New England governors for leading the country in vaccination— Julia Raifman (@JuliaRaifman) September 9, 2021
Data-driven mask policies help us continue to lead in controlling COVID & supporting economy@govchrissununu@govphilscott@massgovernor@govdanmckee@govjanetmills@GovNedLamont https://t.co/5jTBIrnRhM
She said there is a particular sense of urgency on mask mandates at a time that children, including those who are under 11 and cannot get a vaccine, are gathering again in schools.
Anne Sosin, a public health researcher and educator from Dartmouth College who was another one of the authors, said in a tweet that data-driven mask policies would allow New England governors to “safeguard gains made through vaccination and protect schools, health systems, and businesses.”
Despite a rise in the number of coronavirus cases and other metrics since early July that has brought all the state’s counties into the CDC’s “substantial” and “high” transmission categories, there is currently no statewide requirement for masking in indoor public settings in Massachusetts. A number of communities, including Boston, have instituted their own mandates.
The state has ordered students and staff in public schools to wear masks, at least until Oct. 1. After that date, schools that have 80 percent of their students and staff fully vaccinated can allow those vaccinated to go mask-free, while those unvaccinated would still be required to wear masks.
The state Department of Public Health recommends that a fully vaccinated person wear a mask in an indoor public setting if they have a weakened immune system, are at increased risk because of age or an underlying medical condition, or if someone in their household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk, or is an unvaccinated adult.
A spokesman for Governor Charlie Baker didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment about the idea of data-driven mask mandates.
Martin Finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.