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CDC: Schools That Do Not Require Masks Are More Likely To See Covid-19 Outbreaks

“Nationwide, counties without masking requirements saw the number of pediatric Covid-19 cases increase nearly twice as quickly.”

Universal masking in schools can limit the spread of Covid-19 and minimize disruptions to children’s learning, according to three new studies released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday. The agency released its latest set of reports as the school year ramps up for kids across the country despite continued debate over mandating masks in schools. They reiterate a message the CDC has repeatedly stressed: Masks work.

“These studies continue to demonstrate the importance and effectiveness of CDC’s Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools to help districts ensure safer in-person learning and stop the spread of COVID-19,” the CDC said in a press release issued Tuesday. “Promoting vaccination of eligible persons, mask wearing, and screening testing are all proven methods to continue to work towards the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a study examining K-12 schools in two of Arizona’s most populous counties, the CDC found schools that began the year without universal masking requirements were 3.5 times more likely to see outbreaks of Covid-19 than those who’d required students, staff, faculty, and visitors to mask up from day one.

Of the nearly 1,000 schools the CDC reviewed in Maricopa and Pima counties, 210 had universal mask requirements established on the first day of school, 309 instituted mask requirements after the school year had already begun, and 480 had no requirement at all. From July 15 to Aug. 31, 191 school-associated outbreaks were reported, according to the CDC. Sixteen of those occurred in schools that had instituted mask requirements early while 62 occurred in schools that had instituted masks late and 113 occurred in schools with no requirements.

In a separate study comparing 520 different U.S. counties, the CDC found pediatric case rates were lower (roughly 16.32 per 100,000/day) in counties where schools required masks than in counties that did not (roughly 34.85 cases per 100,000/day). Additionally, counties without school mask requirements saw larger increases in their pediatric Covid-19 case rates after the school year began.

The results of this study suggest universal masking policies in schools not only help reduce the spread of Covid-19 within a school, but within the larger community as well. That could be especially vital in communities that have reported seeing their hospital systems overwhelmed by unvaccinated Covid-19 patients as the CDC noted universal masking in schools “can reduce the burden on the health care systems that support these school districts.”

The final study released Tuesday by the CDC found that despite the ongoing pandemic, most schools remained committed to offering students in-person learning following a year of school closures. Although the CDC recorded an estimated 1,801 school closures for the 2021-2022 school yer, 96% of public schools remained open for full-time in-person learning.

“The continued focus on providing students with a safe environment for in-person learning is one of the main priorities for CDC’s guidance,” the CDC said Tuesday, “and can be best achieved by following a layered prevention strategy.”