- Three separate studies released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found school districts without universal masking policies were more likely to experience COVID-19 outbreaks.
- A study conducted in Arizona found schools without masking requirements were 3.5 times more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks than schools that kicked off the school year requiring all individuals regardless of vaccination status to wear masks. A separate report found that, nationwide, counties without masking requirements saw COVID-19 cases in children increase twice as quickly as those with requirements.
- However, despite an estimated 1,801 school closures reported this school year, 96% of public schools have been able to remain open for full in-person learning. "The continued focus on providing students with a safe environment for in-person learning is one of the main priorities for CDC’s guidance, and can be best achieved by following a layered prevention strategy," the agency advised in a press release.
Before the start of the 2021-22 school year, the CDC reversed its course on previous guidance suggesting vaccinated individuals can return to school without masks. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky described the announcement as "not a welcomed piece of news" and "not a decision that was taken lightly," adding at the time only 30% of children ages 12-17 were fully vaccinated.
However, following the guidance, a number of states and counties released local masking requirements conflicting with the federal agency's guidance. A handful of red states banned school districts from requiring students wear masks altogether, spurring legal battles that eventually resulted in President Joe Biden encouraging the U.S. Department of Education to look into any "possible enforcement actions under applicable laws" in order to bring the states in compliance with recommended health and safety measures.
The department has since launched investigations into many of those states, citing civil rights discrimination concerns for students with disabilities, who may be more at-risk for contracting serious symptoms from COVID-19 and could be sidelined by districts not requiring masking.
As local courts and lawmakers spar over the politics of masking, school district leaders are adopting their own policies in line with or defying mask mandate bans. The CDC's studies add context to that debate.
Resulting from varying local decisions, districts across the nation have adopted a mostly patchwork implementation of mask and vaccine policies.
Meanwhile, Pfizer announced last week its vaccine for children under the age of 12 will be sent to the Federal Drug Administration for review before winter. An optimistic estimate by the company lands the soonest vaccine for children under 12 as available before the end of the year.