Curfews, mask mandates and stay-at-home orders: Experts share which work best

Abby Haglage

The U.S. set a grim new record last week with 481,372 new cases of COVID-19 in seven days, more than any other week since the pandemic began. More than 80,000 cases were recorded on both Friday and Saturday, marking the highest single-day averages since the pandemic began. The surge — which is primarily hitting the Midwest and South — has led local officials to activate emergency measures ranging from curfews and stay-at-home orders to mask mandates.

In El Paso County, Texas, a judge issued an order Sunday mandating a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., a move that comes in response to a major spike in the county, which has recorded more than 10,000 cases in the past two weeks. Chicago officials recently enacted a business curfew, requiring restaurants and bars to shut down by 10 p.m.; Nashville, meanwhile, requires bars and restaurants to close by 11 p.m.

Still, the main prevention methods in cities nationwide seem to be mask mandates and stay-at-home orders. But should more states be taking advantage of a curfew? As experts warn of another peak, experts weigh in on which prevention tactics are the most effective.

A pedestrian walks down a major shopping street in downtown El Paso, Texas on October 23, 2020. County officials enacted a curfew this week in the wake of a surge in cases. (Photo by Paul Ratje/AFP)
A pedestrian walks down a major shopping street in downtown El Paso, Texas, on Oct. 23. County officials enacted a curfew this week in the wake of a surge in cases. (Photo by Paul Ratje/AFP)

Curfews

Curfews, or mandates dictating when individuals can leave their homes, aren’t solely in use in U.S. cities like El Paso, Chicago and Miami. Multiple major European cities, including Paris, Madrid and Rome, have all imposed curfews to help stop the spread of the pandemic as well. One of the major advantages of a curfew, says Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, is that it allows businesses to stay open, but also prioritizes health over late night drinking.

“We want to let the bars earn a living, but we have to tell them how to run their business in a lower-risk fashion,” says Schaffner. Two fewer hours of a bar being open, in other words, are two fewer hours that coronavirus can spread. Not to mention, the longer that a bar stays open, the riskier things become. “The sense is that the later you’re there, the more casual your behavior is likely to be,” he says.

Yahoo Life Medical Contributor Dr. Dara Kass elaborates. “What do people do at night that they don’t do during the day? They drink. What happens when you drink? Well, first of all, your mask is off; second of all, you behave less responsibly,” says Kass. “People don’t generally drink at 9 in the morning.”

Stay-at-home orders, shelter-in-place and lockdowns

Restrictions on where individuals can go fall under many different names. According to the National League of Cities, the most restrictive is shelter-in-place, which means you must “stay inside a building, room, or vehicle until additional guidance is given.” While shelter-in-place was used early on in the pandemic, local leaders eventually shifted to “stay-at-home orders” or “safer-at-home,” both typically meaning that residents must remain at home unless making essential trips, such as for food or medicine.

Many have referred to this as a lockdown, signaling the shutting down of all nonessential businesses in a city. According to the New York Times, only five states (Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota) have not enacted some form of stay-at-home order over the course of the pandemic. Multiple studies have shown that COVID-19 cases decrease where stay-at-home orders are put in place.

Schaffner agrees that they work — and says that reopening too quickly can force states to consider these options. “We’ve opened up in many places in a much-too-carefree manner,” he says. “And so now people are having to take a necessary step back.”

Mask mandates

Due to an initial lack of knowledge about the asymptomatic spread of COVID-19, experts first advised Americans not to wear masks unless they had symptoms. But since March, when studies showed that even those with signs of the virus could infect others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has strongly urged Americans to wear masks whenever possible.

The guidance has been backed up by multiple studies showing that they protect both the wearer as well as those around them and that rates of COVID-19 cases decrease in states with mask mandates. CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield even declared at one point that if everyone in the U.S. wore a mask consistently that the pandemic could be under control in as little as four weeks.

Today, more than half of U.S. states require individuals to wear masks indoors. Kass says this is the most important prevention measure of all. “Curfews, stay-at-home orders are really to reinforce the behavior of staying apart. Masks are the ultimate tool,” she says. “Masks objectively prevent the spread of this virus. We would [have] 80 percent of our workplaces [open] if we had masks on appropriately. Everything else is to decrease people’s movement and to give time for the virus to come down and to get back out safely with masks.”

Schaffner agrees, and although he is in favor of curfews and stay-at-home orders, he suggests that neither are as effective as insisting that all citizens wear a mask. “Masking is absolutely fundamental,” says Schaffner. “Mask mandates, when accepted — and at least encouraged, if not enforced — they really work.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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