INDIANAPOLIS — As pharmacies and stores across the country start to roll out free N95 face masks, researchers at the Regenstrief Institute released new data on mask behavior in Indianapolis during a six-month period.
“We were interested, along with Marion County, on how the population was responding to the request to wear masks in public,” said Dr. Joshua Vest, a research scientist at Regenstrief Institute and director of the Center for Health Policy at the Fairbanks School of Public Health.
In order to do that, Vest said they need to observe people in different settings at various times.
“Students from our university would go out and collect data from various locations across the county by just observing and counting who was wearing masks correctly and who was not,” Vest said.
From November 2020 to May 2021, the team gathered about 76,000 observations at more than 900 locations and discovered about 85 percent of adults wore masks in Marion County.
The observations took place at grocery stores, big box stores, shopping centers, small retailers, college campuses and fitness centers.
Research showed the lowest mask wearing was at fitness centers and small retail stores.
“The percentage was pretty robust and consistent throughout the entire period, so it really was becoming the normal behavior,” Vest said.
During the observation period, mask guidance was constantly changing.
In April, Indiana lifted its mask mandate and shortly after, the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people didn’t need to mask up in public.
Yet the whole time, Marion County’s mandate remained in place.
Based on observations, Vest said more people listened to the local policy compared to state or federal changes.
“I think it really emphasizes how important local government is in responding to local public health emergencies and crises. They are the ones that are able to be in the community. They are the ones that are able to work with partners. They are the ones that are able to do encouragement,” Vest said.
Since last spring, Vest admits mask wearing has dipped. It’s a trend he said started at the end of the study’s observation period last spring. But he said masks still serve as an important tool in fighting off this virus, especially during times of high transmission.
“It still serves a purpose. However, now we are in a different world than when we did our study and when we started off. The world now has a very effective vaccine,” Vest said.
The study is the most in-depth look at mask behavior in Marion County. Vest said other cities and counties have tried to do something similar, but not to this scale.
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