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Schools without mask requirements were three-and-a-half times more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks than those enforcing mask mandates, according to new CDC research.
The study, which focused on 1,000 schools in Arizona’s Maricopa and Pima counties, found that there were 113 COVID-19 outbreaks in schools without mask requirements in the first month of in-person learning. There were 16 outbreaks in schools with mask requirements.
“Masks in schools work to protect our children, to keep them and their school communities safe, and to keep them in school for in-person learning,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said at a Wednesday White House briefing.
But, she said, more than 95% of schools across the country had remained open through the end of September, despite 1,800 school closures affecting nearly 1 million students.
Protection for children in school is just one piece of the puzzle, Walensky said — there must also be COVID-safe practices at home to limit transmission. A CDC study published last week found that children had similar infection rates, compared with adults, confirming there is risk to people of all ages.
“For those children not yet eligible for vaccination, the best protection we can provide them is to make sure everyone around them in the household is vaccinated and to make sure they’re wearing a mask in school and during indoor extracurricular activities,” Walensky said.
Meanwhile, Pfizer’s vaccine for children ages 5-11 may be approved by early November. The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet Oct. 26 to discuss available data, and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet Nov. 2. A decision is expected soon after.
News briefing, White House COVID-19 Response Team, Oct. 13, 2021.