The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted not only the health and safety sectors but also education. In the pandemic’s early days, UK communication charity “I CAN” revealed in a report that 1.5 million children are lagging behind on speech development and understanding, brought about by the closing of schools and strict lockdowns.
Supported by other data and research studies, this led the U.S. to begin opening up schools and encouraging children to attend classes on campus. Hybrid learning models have been developed to re-foster the intimacy of physical learning while reducing the risk of COVID-19 exposure.
Naturally, the reopening of schools caused an increase in new COVID-19 cases in the last quarter of 2021, especially among children. Some educational institutions countered this effect by imposing mask mandates and social distancing on campus. Recent data shows that these efforts have tremendously reduced COVID-19 transmission, thereby creating a safer learning environment for children and teachers alike.
Lower COVID-19 Transmission in Schools With Mandatory Masking
A group of researchers led by Duke University epidemiologist Danny Benjamin conducted a study on COVID-19 transmission rates in kindergarten to grade 12 public schools around U.S. districts. They tracked cases from July to December of 2021 linked to over 13,800 U.S. schools, 61 districts, 9 States, over a million students, and 160,000 staff.
The researchers found that schools with mask mandates in place had a significantly less COVID-19 transmission rate — 72% less, to be exact, which is about one-fourth the rate of schools with partial, optional, or no mask policies.
Mask Mandates Supplemented With Vaccination
Shortly after the reopening of schools in July of 2021, vaccination drives for children ages 12-17 commenced. In August of the same year, about half of U.S. children and adolescents were vaccinated.
It was expected that children under five would be eligible to receive their COVID-19 shots at the beginning of 2022, but the U.S. FDA has delayed its authorization. As of writing, over 18 million children below 5 years of age are not yet eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccines.
In line with the growing number of children getting vaccinated, Benjamin and his team are working to collect more data on COVID-19 transmission in schools and update their study to reflect the impact of vaccination.
Schools To Decide Masking Requirements As State Mask Mandates Lift
Mask mandates and other health and safety protocols are relaxing as new COVID-19 cases begin to drop. But schools and other establishments can still impose mask requirements as they see fit.
To help schools decide whether or not to drop mask mandates, the authors of the study above developed a Masking and Mitigation Considerations Calculator that school administrators can use to determine how their masking decisions will impact case numbers within their respective communities.
It’s recommended that schools weigh the benefits and risks to make the safest decisions for their students and staff. The study results reveal the advantages of mask-wearing in the educational setting and should be a factor in their overall decision of whether or not to lift campus mask mandates.