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Americans Flee Mask Mandates

People by the thousands have moved out of the states that imposed draconian mask mandates.

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(LL_studio/Shutterstock)

Three full years after Covid-19 crossed the Pacific and reached our shores, mask enthusiasts are still insisting that Americans cover their faces with foreign objects. Never mind the tremendous price paid in terms of human social interaction. Never mind that the best scientific evidence suggests that masks do little to nothing to stop the spread of viruses and—because they are often dirty and covered with germs—might even be counterproductive. Many public health officials would apparently consider it a victory if one never again had to see a human face in public.

Indeed, Boston public schools just imposed a new mask mandate (or, a new “expectation of students and staff, not a mandate”). Schools in Passaic, New Jersey, had already imposed one. And, as most Americans have experienced firsthand, many if not most hospitals and doctors’ offices have never stopped requiring masks since the start of the pandemic. Less than two months after getting slammed for calling for “a pandemic amnesty”—a mulligan for those who chose to impose mask and vaccine mandates and close businesses and schools—the Atlantic is now asking, “Should Everyone Be Masking Again?” The answer appears to be yes, as the article maintains that “masking remains one of the best and least obtrusive infection-prevention measures we have at our disposal,” a claim that is demonstrably wrong on both counts.

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Thankfully, most Americans don’t share such fondness for masks. Indeed, everyday citizens have demonstrated this fact by fleeing mask-mandate states in favor of mask-free ones. 

According to Ballotpedia (and supplemental information for South Carolina), there were ten states that never imposed a mask mandate: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Tennessee. Based on statistics from the Census Bureau (some of which were highlighted in the Wall Street Journal) nine of these ten mask-free states increased in population from July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2022. The only mask-free state that decreased in population was Alaska (and barely, as its population dropped by just 599 people, or 0.08 percent).

Meanwhile, among the ten states that had the longest-lasting (in terms of total days) mask mandates—Hawaii, Connecticut, New York, New Mexico, Washington, California, Nevada, Illinois, Oregon, and Rhode Island—seven decreased in population from mid-2021 to mid-2022. Of these ten, only Nevada, Washington, and Connecticut increased in population (the latter by just 2,850 people, or 0.08 percent), and they may have benefitted from people fleeing California, in the cases of Nevada and Washington, or New York City, in the case of Connecticut. 

In other words, 90 percent of the mask-free states gained population, while 70 percent of the ten states with the longest-lasting mask mandates lost population.

Looking at matters from another angle, there were 12 states that gained more than 1 percent in population from mid-2021 to mid-2022. Of this dozen, six never had a mask mandate at all, three were among the ten states with the shortest mask mandates, and one (South Carolina) had a limited mask mandate that didn’t apply in most indoor public places. Among the 18 states that lost population, meanwhile, 15 imposed longer mask mandates than most states did. 

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So, of the 12 states that gained the most in population, 83 percent (10 of 12) either imposed no mask mandate or imposed a shorter mask mandate than most states. Of the 18 states that lost population, 83 percent (15 of 18) imposed a longer mask mandate than most states.

Here are the five states with the largest percentage increases in population, along with what sort of mask mandate they had (or didn’t have):

1. Florida (up about 417,000 people, or 1.91 percent): no mask mandate;

2. Idaho (up 1.82 percent): no mask mandate;

3. South Carolina (up 1.72 percent): limited (and comparatively short) mask mandate that applied in restaurants (for 213 days), schools, and large venues, but not in most indoor public places;

4. Texas (up 1.59 percent): 10th-shortest mask mandate among states that imposed a mandate (250 days);

5. South Dakota (up 1.52 percent): no mask mandate.

Meanwhile, here are the five states with the largest percentage decreases in population, along with the sort of mask mandate they had:

1. New York (down 0.91 percent): 3rd-longest mask mandate (666 days), spanning almost 22 months (from April 15, 2020 to February 10, 2022, with a roughly 7-month hiatus for the vaccinated);

2. Illinois (down 0.82 percent): 8th-longest mask mandate (590 days, over two stints), with the second stint extending all the way until February 28, 2022;

3. Louisiana (down 0.8 percent): 18th-longest mask mandate (376 days, over two stints);

4. West Virginia (down 0.58 percent): 20th-longest mask mandate (349 days);

5. Hawaii (down 0.48 percent): longest mask mandate (704 days), lasting just 25 days shy of two years (from April 20, 2020, to March 26, 2022).

In other words, the five states that people were most apt to flee to (percentage-wise) were all among the least-masked states (and most of them didn’t impose a mask mandate at all). The five states that people were most apt to flee from ranged from having more masking than most to being among the most-masked states of all.

On top of the ten states that never had statewide mask mandates (nine of which gained population), there were five additional states that didn’t have statewide mask mandates in schools. Four of these five—Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, and New Hampshire—gained population. (The other, Kansas, lost just a sliver of its population—772 people and 0.03 percent.)

Perhaps the most telling measure of how strongly Americans desire to live in a particular state is net domestic migration, which measures how many people moved to a given state from other states (minus the number who moved the other direction). Net domestic migration reflects population change apart from international migration, births, and deaths.

Over the 2-year span from July 1, 2020, to July 1, 2022, here are the five states that gained the most in population, percentage-wise, from net domestic migration, based on figures from the Census Bureau:

1. Idaho (up 4.33 percent);

2. Montana (up 3.35 percent);

3. South Carolina (up 2.95 percent);

4. Florida (up 2.61 percent);

5. Delaware (up 2.48 percent).

Idaho and Florida never had mask mandates, Montana had the 7th-shortest mandate and never applied it to schools, and South Carolina’s mandate was 8th-shortest and didn’t apply to most indoor public places. Delaware was the outlier, with the 13th-longest mandate, but many people may have fled there from Philadelphia. Together, the top four states on this list gained 831,000 residents in net domestic migration, with Florida accounting for more than two-thirds of those (563,000).

Conversely, here are the five states that lost the most in population, percentage-wise, from net domestic migration over that same period:

1. New York (down 2.96 percent);

2. California (down 2.03 percent);

3. Illinois (down 2.01 percent);

4. Hawaii (down 1.70 percent);

5. Louisiana (down 1.61 percent).

This list reads like a who’s who of mask-happy states. The four biggest losers in net domestic migration had the 1st-, 3rd-, 6th-, and 8th-longest mask mandates (Hawaii, New York, California, and Illinois, respectively). Those four states combined to lose a net 1.7 million residents to other states, with the top two accounting for a net loss of 1.4 million (595,000 for New York, 802,000 for California). Indeed, California’s net loss in domestic migration was 98 percent as large as the city of San Francisco (population: 815,000), and nobody was much fonder of imposing mask mandates—and other mandates—than the Golden State.

By voting with their feet, Americans have made clear what they think of the mask mandates that governors (not legislatures), following the advice of public health officials, saw fit to impose on them in 40 of the 50 states. They have repeatedly left states that—at least when it comes to masks—haven’t valued liberty, science, or human social interaction. They have fled elsewhere to breathe in the fresh air of freedom, both literally and figuratively. Perhaps public officials will start to take notice.

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