A Test of Masks in Missouri

May 26, 2020 11:43 a.m.
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TPM Reader JM fills in some key details on that COVID-infected hair stylist in Springfield, Missouri and what could be an interesting test in the efficacy of masking …

I read your post about the hair salon in Springfield, MO. I live in Springfield and would like to clarify what happened and why I think it could end up being significant.

First, the details you gave weren’t quite right. An initial stylist turned up sick and exposed 84 clients and 7 coworkers. While she was sick and working, she also visited a Walmart, a gym (3 times – must not have felt too bad!), and a couple of other places. Then a coworker of hers turned up sick and exposed 56 clients. Together, they exposed 147 people associated just with their place of employment. Luckily, the salon did everything right, including collecting contact information for each client, which made the job of contract tracing much easier for the health department.

Why I think this episode is so important:

First, it shows how things can turn on a dime. The county where Springfield is located has 280,000 people. As recently as May 14, less than two weeks ago, we had only 11 active cases. That weekend, several new cases popped up, almost all of which were travel-related around Mother’s Day. Then the stylist event happened, which was also travel-related. Now we have three times as many active cases with things threatening to spin out of control.

Second, this is an example of what can happen when a worker is in a position where they don’t feel like they can stay home even if sick. This is no doubt going on all over the country and has huge implications for the spread of the virus.

Finally, and to end on a good note, this will be a great experiment about mask wearing. It’s true that the salon required both stylists and clients to wear masks. If no cases turn up in clients, it means that the spread was almost certainly contained because of masks and will hopefully bolster their use. The health department should give an update to the public tomorrow. Stay tuned…

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