Schools with universal masking were 3.5 times less likely to have a COVID-19 outbreak and the rate of COVID-19 cases among children in their counties was 50 percent lower than in schools without a mask requirement. That comes from two new studies published on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new data ends up as masks and continues to be a political and social hotspot in the US. And children, many of whom still cannot be vaccinated, have returned to the classrooms.
In one of the newly published studies, Arizona health researchers examined schools with and without mask guidelines in Maricopa and Pima counties. Together, the counties make up more than 75 percent of the state’s population. The researchers identified 210 schools that had universal masking requirements from the beginning of their school days. They compared this with 480 schools that did not have a mask requirement during the entire study period from July 15 to August 30.
The researchers counted 129 school-associated COVID-19 outbreaks in all of these schools during the study period. About 87.5 percent of outbreaks occurred in schools that did not require a mask. The researchers then performed an analysis that adjusted school size, COVID-19 case rates in each school’s zip code, socio-economic measures, and other factors. The researchers found that schools with no mask requirement were 3.5 times more likely to have a school-associated COVID-19 outbreak than schools with universal masking.
In a separate study, CDC researchers tried to assess whether schools’ masking policies had wider implications for their communities – and they do. The researchers examined county-level data on the rates of pediatric COVID-19 cases in 520 counties in the United States. They compared the rates of COVID-19 cases in children in the week before and in the week after starting school.
Although all counties generally saw an increase in pediatric COVID-19 cases after school started, counties with generally masked schools saw minor bumps. In counties where school masks were compulsory, the average increase in the number of cases after school started was 16.32 cases per 100,000 children per day. In counties with no school mask requirement, the average rate rose about twice as high – 34.85 cases per 100,000 children per day.
The US continues to see a patchwork of mask use and other protective measures in schools as the 2021-2022 school year begins. Many schools in many states do not have universal mask requirements, despite the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend universal masking in schools. In some states, heads of state have banned schools from requiring masks – and even punished them for requiring masks.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is among the leaders who have banned mask mandates in schools. And although the ban is being challenged in court, DeSantis is withholding money from school authorities that have issued mask mandates anyway.
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it had granted $ 147,719 to Florida’s Alachua County School Board. The money is intended to “restore funds withheld by government leaders – such as salaries for school boards or principals who have had their salaries cut – when a school district implemented strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools.”
In a statement, Headmistress of the Alachua Public School, Dr. Carlee Simon: “I am very grateful for [US Secretary of Education Miguel] Cardona, President Biden and the federal government for funding. But I am even more grateful for your continued support and encouragement in our efforts to protect students and staff and to keep our schools open for personal learning. “
Alachua is the first county in the country to receive such funding through the new Project to Support America’s Families and Educators (Project SAFE) scholarship program.
In a separate statement, Minister of Education Cardona said: “We should thank the districts for using proven strategies to keep schools open and safe, rather than punishing them. We stand with the dedicated educators in Alachua and across the country who are doing what is right to protect their school communities. “
Public health experts say masks are an important tool in protecting children, teachers and staff from the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic coronavirus. Masks are intended to be a key layer of a multi-layered approach that also includes vaccinations for the authorized individuals, physical distancing when possible, improved ventilation, testing, quarantine, improved hygiene, and disinfection and cleaning.
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