Masks help keep schools open, CDC finds

WASHINGTON — Mask mandates keep the coronavirus from spreading in schools, according to three studies published on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings call into question continued efforts by some Republican governors to fight mask mandates in schools.

One of the three studies compared masking policies in Maricopa and Pima counties, the largest in Arizona. In both counties, some school districts imposed mask mandates while others did not. Those that did saw far lower likelihood of the coronavirus spreading among students.

“The odds of a school-associated COVID-19 outbreak in schools with no mask requirement were 3.7 times higher than those in schools with an early mask requirement,” the CDC analysis concluded.

District of Columbia students
Students in Washington, D.C., arrive for the first day of school, Aug. 30, 2021. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Gov. Doug Ducey has banned mask mandates, but some Arizona school districts have implemented them anyway. A similar tension in Florida has led to two school districts having the pay of school board members docked by Gov. Ron DeSantis, an opponent of mask mandates.

On Thursday, the federal Department of Education reimbursed one of the two Florida districts.

The highly transmissible Delta variant has made the school year more fraught than many had expected. Although many school districts are requiring vaccinations for teachers and staff, children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for immunization. Approval for this younger cohort is expected soon, but even then, it is not clear that vaccine requirements for children will become the norm.

That reality has led many educators to conclude that masks are necessary for now, especially since there is little enthusiasm for returning to remote learning.

The three new studies bolster the advocates of masking in schools.

The second of those studies looked at mask mandates in 520 counties across the country. “Counties without school mask requirements experienced larger increases in pediatric COVID-19 case rates after the start of school compared with counties that had school mask requirements,” the study found, with counties where students did not mask reporting twice as many childhood cases as counties with school mask mandates.

Elementary-school students
Elementary-school students line up for hand sanitizer at the Sokolowski School in Chelsea, Mass. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

“This highlights the impact that universal masking policies can have on the communities that surround these school districts,” an accompanying CDC press release said, “as the impact of the policies can reduce the burden on the health care systems that support these school districts.”

FInally, the CDC found that 98.5 percent of all schools nationwide have remained open, even as the Delta variant sweeps — albeit with lessening force — across the country. So far, 1,801 schools have closed nationwide, the analysis found. The states with the most closures were Tennessee, Texas, Georgia and Kentucky.


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