Mask Use Becomes Visible in the USA

Carnegie Mellon University data indicate North and South Dakota residents seldom wear masks
people on ferry boat with masks
(Coronavirus Today)

Nationwide trends in mask use are now being monitored by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and shared publicly.

Since April 2020, CMU's Delphi Research Group has been collecting real-time data on self-reported COVID-19 symptoms nationwide, providing county-level information about the coronavirus pandemic that is not available from any other source.

More than 1 million U.S. residents have responded since CMU's expanded survey was deployed during September 2020.

The survey has now been expanded to include questions about how people are responding to public health recommendations, such as mask use.

"Some of these topics were partially addressed by the original survey, but we knew that as the pandemic changes and public health priorities adapt, our survey must change too," said Alex Reinhart, assistant teaching professor in the Department of Statistics and Data Science and a member of the Delphi group, in a press release issued on October 12, 2020.

Monitoring the prevalence of mask use and how it changes over time and in different locales will help CMU better understand where the virus is most likely to spread and what measures prove most effective in preventing its spread, Reinhart said.

In New England, hit hard by the first wave of COVID-19 in early 2020, the survey shows most people wear masks. 

Thus far, the lowest rates of mask use are in the central United States, such as North and South Dakota, where case rates are now rising rapidly.

Questions have been added to the survey related to COVID-19 testing to ask if people who want tests have access to them, whether people are testing positive and who is getting tested.

"Our survey doesn't replace official public health reporting on COVID testing and case counts, but it can provide insights not available any other way," Reinhart said. "By providing these signals to the public, we hope to provide researchers, public health officials, and journalists the information they need to form a more complete picture of the pandemic."

In its COVID-19 data gathering and forecasting efforts, CMU's Delphi research group is leveraging years of expertise as the preeminent academic center for forecasting influenza activity nationwide. 

Furthermore, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has designated the Delphi group as one of two National Centers of Excellence for Influenza Forecasting. At the CDC's request, the group last spring extended and adapted its flu forecasting efforts to encompass COVID-19.

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