Universal masking is one of the most important tools that public health authorities and the medical community in general rely on to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. As the Delta variant spurred cases across the country, medical authorities made it clear the importance of masking oneself, especially when resuming face-to-face schooling. However, some places continued to ignore the call and even declined the mask requirement.

Outbreaks in areas where school masks are not required

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unveiled three new studies in their weekly morbidity and mortality report last week that showed the likelihood of outbreaks in locations where indoor masking by students and faculty is not required. The health authority also found that child and youth transmissions rose twice as fast in counties that did not require masking than in areas that required masking in public places.

One of the studies showed that schools in two of Arizona’s most populous counties without a mask requirement were more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks than in areas where educational institutions required their students and staff to wear masks from the beginning of the first day of class.

The second study found that areas where school masks are required had lower COVID-19 transmission rates among children compared to counties where students are not required to wear masks in school. Meanwhile, the third study focused on the pandemic-related school closings and found that 96% of the 999 public schools included in the study could not stay open for face-to-face learning.

Importance of the new studies

In a press release posted on its website, the CDC said the studies reaffirm the importance of wearing masks amid the ongoing global health crisis. Universal masking still plays an important role in the prevention strategies the agency recommends for schools as physical education resumes.

Based on the results of the second study, the CDC said the lower average pediatric infections in masked school districts may have a positive impact on the surrounding communities of academic institutions. Conversely, school districts that do not require face masks would prove to be a strain on their local health systems as cases are likely to skyrocket.

The CDC’s guidelines on COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools list vaccinations as a leading prevention strategy to help prevent transmission and end the pandemic. However, with vaccination rates faltering, the health authority is pushing for universal indoor masking and social distancing as primary tools to reduce transmission between students. Other strategies found on the list include screening tests, proper hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting, and contact tracing.

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