Mask adherence and rate of COVID-19 across the United States

PLoS One. 2021 Apr 14;16(4):e0249891. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0249891. eCollection 2021.


Mask wearing has been advocated by public health officials as a way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In the United States, policies on mask wearing have varied from state to state over the course of the pandemic. Even as more and more states encourage or even mandate mask wearing, many citizens still resist the notion. Our research examines mask wearing policy and adherence in association with COVID-19 case rates. We used state-level data on mask wearing policy for the general public and on proportion of residents who stated they always wear masks in public. For all 50 states and the District of Columbia (DC), these data were abstracted by month for April ─ September 2020 to measure their impact on COVID-19 rates in the subsequent month (May ─ October 2020). Monthly COVID-19 case rates (number of cases per capita over two weeks) >200 per 100,000 residents were considered high. Fourteen of the 15 states with no mask wearing policy for the general public through September reported a high COVID-19 rate. Of the 8 states with at least 75% mask adherence, none reported a high COVID-19 rate. States with the lowest levels of mask adherence were most likely to have high COVID-19 rates in the subsequent month, independent of mask policy or demographic factors. Mean COVID-19 rates for states with at least 75% mask adherence in the preceding month was 109.26 per 100,000 compared to 249.99 per 100,000 for those with less adherence. Our analysis suggests high adherence to mask wearing could be a key factor in reducing the spread of COVID-19. This association between high mask adherence and reduced COVID-19 rates should influence policy makers and public health officials to focus on ways to improve mask adherence across the population in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control
  • COVID-19 / transmission
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / prevention & control
  • Guideline Adherence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Policy / trends
  • Humans
  • Masks / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pandemics
  • Patient Compliance / psychology
  • Public Health
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification
  • United States / epidemiology

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.