IIn many schools across the United States — consistent with Trends across the country –The only masks seen recently were those on Halloween costumes. Mask requirements generally went by the wayside in the spring of 2022, when the first Omicron wave subsided and The CDC has modified its recommendations for concealmentAnd replacing the mass mask with masks resulted from the high rates of cases and hospitalizations. Since that time, even when Hide has been recommended By the Center for Disease Control (CDC) due to the high levels of community category, schools and other boarding facilities have rarely restored this requirement. Keeping children healthy and educated is first and foremost on the minds of parents and teachers. But the central continuing question has clearly been the simple one: Do public school masking requirements actually work?
a New study The New England Journal of Medicine sheds some light on this question. The authors examined COVID-19 case rates in areas in the Boston area after the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Raise requirements for school concealment at the state level In February 2022, as directed by the CDC. What followed was a natural experiment in the effect of mask requirements, with school districts eliminating the requirement at various time points or not removing it at all. Two school districts (nearby Boston and Chelsea) maintained the requirements for the duration of the study.
The authors found that COVID-19 rates were similar between regions before the mask requirement was removed, and then quickly diverged, with case rates rising in provinces immediately after the mask requirement was removed. Nearly 12,000 cases, or 30% of all cases during the study period, were attributable to the abolition of the mask requirement. The resulting illnesses led to a significant loss of personal school days – at least 17,500 days of school absence for students and 6,500 days of staff absences – with masks as a critical component of improving learning.
An important insight from the study was that school districts that retained the required mask more often had school buildings in poor condition, crowded classrooms, and a higher proportion of individuals more likely to have adverse health outcomes, including those with disabilities, than wealthier districts. That raise the mask requirements. All other things being equal, the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission is higher in Buildings with insufficient ventilation and filtration And with more people in smaller spaces, the need for protective measures such as masks is greater in schools with lower resources. The importance of this protection was increased because other mitigation measures were also dropped at the same time, including contact tracing, physical distancing, COVID testing, and isolation from close contacts.
Wealthier societies may feel able to unmask more easily Because of the low risk of transmission and because of the high vaccination rates. The study suggests that this perception is incorrect, as cases increased dramatically among schools that raised mask requirements, despite the fact that many of these schools were structurally more prepared to avoid and mitigate the disease. While the study does not capture the broader contributions to societal transmission, excess cases tend to place a disproportionate burden on the health and financial well-being of less affluent members of the community. Therefore, allowing wealthier societies to drive decision-making about mask requirements is not only a manifestation of inequality, but it threatens to expand it.
Addressing injustice requires giving schools with low resources a central voice in policy decision-making and making concrete and immediate investments in those schools to make them safer. Besides investing in the schools themselves, Which will have multiple benefits for learning and wellness beyond COVID-19Additional measures to protect students, staff, and their families include sick leave and other structural supports that help increase immunization rates and promote equitable access to health care.
In general, there are some who will quickly dismiss the new study’s findings, arguing that masks do not reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The evidence is clear on this point. Masks can Prevent and filter SARS-CoV-2-carrying aerosolsAnd the The best masks work best; This study supports Previous evidence that hide policies in communities prevent relocation, and provide private data on policies in the school environment. While there are challenges for schools, including mask compliance, lack of N95s designed for young children, and necessary lunchtime removal of masks, there are many high-quality masks (such as the KF94 or KN95). It works well for kids and is very convenient. The study by Cougar and colleagues does not contain information on the types of masks that are worn in the Boston area, but multiple school districts She communicated the importance of high-quality masks to combat more transmissible variants, and made these masks freely available to students.
So, what should we do with the new information provided by this study? As a school nurse, environmental health researcher, and emergency medicine physician, we find this information compelling and important to act upon. Immediately, Pediatric and hospital practices have been bypassed With COVID-19, RSV, the flu, and many other respiratory viruses, the winter and holiday season (when things usually go wrong) are just around the corner. Student and staff absenteeism is increasing early this school year, The fourth school year affected by COVID, but the first year without preventive measures taken on a consistent basis. Slopes were evident once comprehensive coverage ended; It’s the inaccessible or unfair slopes.
Although “mild” illness has provided the rationale for lower anxiety about COVID among children, the massive numbers in the winter wave will mean an increased burden on the health care system and many cases of serious consequences, such as COVID long, among children. Now is the time for schools to come up with concrete plans to mitigate the disease. Short-term mask requirements, based on clear metrics and goals, and with quality masks being provided to families, can make a big difference. This will keep children, staff at school and parents at work.
The strategic use of masks should be cited as a primary means of increasing learning – not the other way around – because children cannot learn when they are at home, in the hospital, or when their coaches are sick. Any strategy should also include Appropriate accommodations, including routine masking regardless of CDC community level, for students at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 due to increased immunity or other conditions. This approach can be widely used by any organization that wants to improve worker protections, play a role in reducing community transmission, and ensure that public spaces are accessible to all.
A new study by Cougar and colleagues confirms this We have the tools To protect the health and learning of our students. Now is the time to actually use it, but do policymakers in schools and in local, state and federal government care?
More election coverage from TIME
Discussion about this post