CDC highlights Springfield Great Clips COVID-19 study as further support for masking
A natural test of masks’ ability to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Springfield is getting national attention.
A study of the case, where two masked, infected hairstylists saw 139 masked customers without any of them falling sick, published in a high-profile report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week.
And in a press release Tuesday, the nation’s top public health authority cited the case as further evidence for its push to get Americans to mask up.
“The results of the Missouri case study provide further evidence on the benefits of wearing a cloth face covering,” the CDC said. “The finding adds to growing body of evidence that cloth face coverings … help prevent the person wearing the mask from spreading COVID-19 to others.”
The study, co-authored by Kendra Findley of the city-county health department, and Dr. Robin Trotman of Cox Health, began in May, shortly after a Great Clips stylist worked for eight days with respiratory symptoms until a test came back positive.
Another stylist who interacted with the first stylist unmasked also got sick and worked for another seven days before testing positive and staying home.
Four close contacts of the first stylist became infected.
But when serving clients, both stylists wore double-layered cotton face coverings or surgical masks as required by city ordinance and company policy.
Additionally, 98 percent of clients followed suit with masks of their own.
A handful of those clients wore N95 respirators, which are designed to filter out 95 percent of airborne particles and are often reserved for health workers. But more than 90 percent wore cloth coverings and surgical masks, which are looser-fitting and don’t form an airtight seal.
Nevertheless, when researchers tracked down all 139 exposed clients, none of them reported feeling sick.
Researchers also offered to test everyone, which could unearth asymptomatic infections, and all 67 clients who took the offer were negative for the virus.
Findley, the health department’s administrator of community health, said in an interview that’s a powerful indication that masks work.
“This is a novel virus, meaning we do not have an immune response to this virus, so the first time they encounter it, most susceptible people should be become sick,” she said. “And the only answer for them not becoming sick is that those people were masked.”
In an analysis of the results, the study authors conceded some limitations.
The clients who declined to be tested could have been sick without symptoms, for example.
And researchers didn’t contact any clients the stylists served before they got sick even though they could have spreading the virus then.
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Limits on services at the salon — only haircuts, facial hair trimmings and perms were on offer — may have also had an impact.
“Most stylists cut hair while clients are facing away from them, which might have also limited transmission,” the authors noted.
Nevertheless, Trotman, Findley, and researchers from Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Kansas wrote that their findings could be used to inform public health policy moving forward.
It certainly had an impact on Springfield’s new masking mandate.
Findley, the health department administrator, said the study “helped guide us down the road of saying this is the best tool we have right now.”
And multiple City Council members cited the example before voting 8-0 to impose the recommendation this week despite vocal opposition from a sizable minority of people weighing in.
Similar rules are also in effect in Kansas City, St. Louis, Columbia, Joplin, and 20 other states.
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Leaders in Branson were also set to consider the idea Thursday afternoon following a rise in cases in Taney County.
The CDC itself has yet to recommend any mandates.
But Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC director, told the Journal of the American Medical Association Tuesday that if everyone embraced masking now, the pandemic could under control in less than two months.
"If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really do think over the next four, six, eight weeks, I really think we can bring this under control," he said.
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also support local journalism at News-Leader.com/subscribe.