About 30% of COVID-19 cases among students and staff at schools around Boston could have been prevented if they hadn’t lifted the mask-wearing rule, according to a new US study.
Researchers looked at more than 70 school districts to compare those that mandate mask wearing with those that do not, and found that mask wearing in schools was associated to significantly fewer COVID-19 cases.
According to the study, school districts in the Greater Boston area that lifted the requirement to wear face masks last February recorded 44.9 more cases of COVID-19 per 1,000 students and staff in 15 weeks compared to the previous year. with schools continuing to wear masks.
This resulted in nearly 12,000 cases of COVID-19 related to the lifting of the mask requirement in this area, representing about 30% of cases at the time across all school districts.
When considering only COVID-19 among employees, the impact of mask wearing is even more apparent: school districts that do not require mask wearing have an additional 81 cases per 1,000 employees overall, with a rate The rate of cases is nearly twice that of schools still wearing masks.
Tori Cowger, corresponding author and Health and Human Rights Fellow at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard Chan School, said in a press release.
“Our results also suggest that universal mask wearing can be an important tool to reduce the structural inequalities that lead to inequality in schools and the risk of disparities in education. Severe COVID-19, educational disruption as well as health and economic effects of secondary transmission to family members.”
The study comes as health experts and officials urge Canadians to start wearing masks again if they stop wearing them. Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford advised the public on Sunday to “wear a mask at all times,” and the province’s top doctor will recommend masks on Monday – but it’s unclear if this advice will lead to the rule of law. Provincial regulations on whether to make face masks mandatory in schools and businesses.
Mask regulations have virtually disappeared in many areas of Canada this year, although COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths occur at a higher rate than in 2021.
As of November 7, there were 6,083 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Canada. Last year, the highest number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 all at once was 4,930, according to the federal government.
RESEARCH LEARNED MASK MEANS Fewer CHILDREN AND TEACHERS SICKED WITH COVID-19
Many studies have shown that wearing a mask in indoor public spaces can provide better protection from COVID-19 and other airborne viruses, but not many studies can directly compare the results. of schools mandating the wearing of masks with schools that have removed them.
Massachusetts revoked the universal mask-wearing requirement for public schools in February 2022, and the vast majority of schools responded by dropping the mask-wearing requirement.
Only two school districts — Boston and Chelsea — decided to keep their mask requirements in place until June 2022, creating the perfect opportunity for researchers to compare incidence rates across mandatory schools. Masks are worn and schools are not required to wear masks.
The resulting study, published earlier this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, followed 72 school districts in the greater Boston area for 15 weeks after the statewide mask-wearing rule was lifted. cancel.
This includes more than 294,000 students and 46,500 staff.
Prior to the statewide lifting of the mask requirement, the trend of COVID-19 cases was relatively similar across all school districts.
It was only after some schools stopped requiring masks and others did not, that a new trend began to emerge.
The graph of COVID-19 incidence in the included school districts shows that cases increased across all schools as prevalence increased in the community. But schools that lifted the requirement to wear masks saw a much higher number of infections than those that did not.
Forty-six of the school districts lifted the mask requirement in the first week of school after the statewide rule was lifted, while 17 school districts lifted their regulations in the second week. , followed by seven school districts in the third week. Only two school districts have maintained the requirement to wear masks through the end of the school year.
Schools that lifted the mask requirement in the first week had the highest rates of COVID-19 among employees of all school districts, while schools that lifted the mask requirement in the second week had the highest rates of COVID-19 the highest incidence of illness among students, as well as students and staff combined.
The two school districts that maintain the mask-wearing policy achieved about 10 weekly COVID-19 cases per 100 students and staff during their peak in late May.
At the same time, other counties have 15-25 weekly cases per 100 students, about 50-150% higher.
There is also an explicit school hour fee for students attending a school that does not have a mask requirement. The researchers calculated that because people who tested positive for COVID-19 were required to isolate at home for at least five days, the additional cases were related to the lack of mask-wearing regulations. pages resulted in at least 17,500 school days out of school for children and 6,500 days out of school. employees for those 15 weeks.
“This study provides clear evidence of the importance of universal mask wearing to reduce COVID-19 transmission in school settings, especially when COVID levels in the community are high,” said Eleanor Murray, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health and co-researcher. author, said in the release. “Wearing a mask reduces the transmission of COVID-19 in schools in a way that is fair and easy to implement and should be part of any layered mitigation strategy.”
The researchers also note that school districts that choose to keep their mask requirement unchanged tend to have older school buildings, which may have poorer ventilation or fewer windows, have more students per grade and generally serving lower-income communities, argues that universal mask-wearing may help create some of the inequalities that poorer students may already be facing.