Dining at restaurants and the lack of mask mandates are each linked to the spread of the virus in the U.S., the C.D.C. says.

By Roni Caryn Rabin

As officials in Texas and Mississippi lifted statewide mask mandates, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered, in a new study on Friday, fresh evidence of the importance of mask use. The study reported that mask-wearing was linked to fewer infections with the coronavirus and Covid-19 deaths in counties across the United States.

The researchers also found that counties opening restaurants for on-premises dining — indoors or outdoors — saw a rise in daily infections about six weeks later, and an increase in Covid-19 death rates about two months later.

The study does not prove cause and effect, but the findings square with other research showing that masks prevent infection and that indoor spaces foster the spread of the virus through aerosols, tiny respiratory particles that linger in the air.

“You have decreases in cases and deaths when you wear masks, and you have increases in cases and deaths when you have in-person restaurant dining,” Dr. Rachel Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said on Friday. “And so we would advocate for policies, certainly while we’re at this plateau of a high number of cases, that would listen to that public health science.”

The findings come as city and state officials nationwide grapple with growing pressure to reopen schools and businesses amid falling rates of new cases and deaths. Officials have recently allowed for limited indoor dining in New York City. And on Thursday, Connecticut’s governor said would be ending capacity limits later this month on restaurants, gyms and offices. Masks remain required in both places.

Though coronavirus cases and deaths are down significantly across the country compared to the devastating peaks around the holidays, President Biden’s health advisers have said in recent days it is not the time to relax. According to a New York Times database, the seven-day average of new cases is 62,924 a day, as of Thursday. While that average is down 14 percent from two weeks earlier, the figure remains near the level of new cases reported during the highest peak last summer. Though fatalities have started falling, in part because of the vaccination campaign at nursing homes, it remains routine for 2,000 deaths to be reported in a single day.

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