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Philadelphians are doing a better job of wearing masks than residents of many other U.S. cities. At least, they say they are.

According to a nationwide survey with a quarter-million responses, the likelihood that five people you run into on Philly streets will all have face-coverings varies, ranging from around 60% in West Philly and the Northeast to about 80% in Center City and Northwest neighborhoods.

Those stats, in general higher than many other metros, come via the New York Times, which mapped Dynata poll results onto census tracts.

Caveat: the data is self-reported, so people could be giving inflated estimates. But since all the information was gained via the same method, a comparison between cities should be valid.

Philadelphia’s self-reported mask-wearing frequency ranges from 55% to 79% Credit: New York Times

While health officials say the target should be 100% compliance, Philadelphia comes out looking relatively good compared to its peers.

Masks have been mandatory for city residents since Mayor Jim Kenney’s June 26 order, which makes exceptions for young children and times when adults are able to keep at least 6 feet apart from people outside their unit. That means masks are required even if you’ll only be passing others on a jogging trail, for example.

A week after the city’s order, Gov. Wolf on July 3 followed Philly’s lead with a similar mask-wearing mandate for the entire state of Pennsylvania.

Early on, there was some confusion over the usefulness of masks in stopping coronavirus spread. There was also a shortage of supplies, which brought recommendations that any available masks should be left for health care and other frontline workers.

But supply chains have since been strengthened, and evidence for the efficacy of face coverings has been piling up — not just N95 respirators, but also 3-ply surgical or heavy cloth masks.

“The data is clearly there that masking works,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said last week during a livestream hosted by the American Medical Association. He added that he believes the U.S. pandemic could be brought under control in 4 to 8 weeks if “we could get everybody to wear a mask right now,” per the Wall Street Journal.

Want to check the science for yourself?

Several studies have found airborne transmission via breathing, talking, coughing and sneezing to be the dominant route for viral spread, including this study that looked at data from Italy, New York City and Wuhan, China.

Face masks have been shown to reduce that airborne transmission. A study that followed 960 recovered COVID patients in Hong Kong found community-wide mask-wearing greatly reduced outbreaks. A different study in the U.S. found that “[i]n the community, masks appeared to be effective with and without hand hygiene, and both together are more protective.”

As the New York Times notes, people are more likely to say they wear masks in places that have already experienced major surges. Philly’s COVID-19 peak wasn’t as high as New York’s or New Jersey’s, but it was hit hard during the country’s first wave. Positives in Philadelphia have now plateaued at around 5% of those tested, but cases are exploding in other parts of the U.S.

Here’s a visual look at how other cities’ residents answered poll-takers when asked how often they wear masks outdoors.

New York City Credit: New York Times
Washington, D.C. Credit: New York Times
Baltimore Credit: New York Times
Harrisburg Credit: New York Times
Pittsburgh Credit: New York Times
Detroit Credit: New York Times
Chicago Credit: New York Times
San Francisco Credit: New York Times
Los Angeles Credit: New York Times
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Danya Henninger

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...