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Missouri health officials say mask data was not a ‘study’ but an ‘incomplete analysis’


Recently publicized data regarding the effectiveness of mask mandates was not meant to be an official study but rather an incomplete and “cherry-picked” show of information, Missouri’s top health officials said. 

A now-viral story from the Missouri Independent this week called COVID-19 infection and death rate data from Kansas City and St. Louis as well as Jackson County and St. Louis County a “study” and “analysis” that showed mask mandates were effective in reducing the spread. 

The information cited in the story was gleaned from emails produced as part of an open records request as well as data publicly available on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. The story, in collaboration with the Documenting COVID-19 project at Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation and MuckRock, accused the governor of hiding proof mask mandates work from the public. 

But Missouri’s top health officials are saying that data does not paint the full picture of what was being communicated in the emails. 

The data in the emails, showing infection and death rates between April and October, do not take into account vaccines, health care resources, testing, or other variables, officials said. It also did not account for differences in health care infrastructure or population disparities, officials said. 

“Please note that there are many outside factors that we can’t account for here,” said Nathan Koffarnus, the assistant bureau chief in the Bureau of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention. 

“As you stated, there are ‘lots’ of variables that must be considered before we can definitively assess the impact of wearing a mask in Missouri before and during the primary Delta period,” said Donald Kauerauf, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services director. 

The story from the Missouri Independent and the Documenting COVID-19 project has garnered widespread and national attention. Gov. Mike Parson castigated the piece and its reporters in a rare social media firestorm Thursday, saying the data in the story was taken “out of context.” 

“There is no definite evidence that proves mandates solely saved lives and prevented COVID-19 infections in Missouri’s biggest cities,” Parson said. “The Nov. 3 email review of case data among jurisdictions was based on data that has been publicly available on our dashboard for more than a year.” 

“I have consistently said that I am not anti-mask; I am anti-mask mandate,” he continued. “If you want to wear a mask, wear one. However, I do not support government issued mask mandates that infringe on our personal liberties.” 

“The November 3 email review of case rate data among jurisdictions was based on data that has been publicly available on Missouri’s dashboard for more than a year. As noted within the source emails, which were conveniently left out of the article, the comparisons shown in the analysis do not account for any outside variables, such as health care access and especially vaccinations,” Kelli Jones, a spokeswoman for Parson, told The Missouri Times. “Rudi Keller proceeded to use these two charts to speculate findings with no valid conclusions and mislead Missourians into thinking state government maliciously withheld information. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Mr. Keller has written irresponsible biased blogs.”

The Missouri Independent’s story included the source emails in the piece.

This story has been updated.