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CDC finds masks prevented COVID school outbreaks by threefold

The findings come as Hillsborough and Sarasota County Schools made amendments to current mask mandates.

TAMPA, Fla — School board members across certain Tampa Bay area districts have voted to relax mask mandates after a reported drop in COVID-19 cases. 

Recent studies from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention support it was effective in preventing cases to spread from the start.

One study found schools that did not enforce a mask mandate at the beginning of the year were three and a half times more likely to have outbreaks than those that did. In total, the data showed 191 outbreaks in schools. Of them, 113 outbreaks happened in school districts that did not enforce a mask mandate early on.

"You saw a significant decrease in a number of cases," Dr. Jill Robert, USF associate professor, said. "It makes an incredible impact on the ability for kids to learn."

The study referred to Arizona’s Maricopa and Pima counties when they started in-person learning in July. School districts within those counties make up 75 percent of the state's population.

Researchers tracked down cases reported between July 15 and Aug. 31 in those school districts. They counted 16 outbreaks in schools with mask requirements early on and 62 outbreaks in schools with late mask requirements, according to the data.

A separate study found school districts with mask requirements had significantly fewer pediatric COVID-19 cases than those that did not.

Credit: CDC
The graph highlights fewer cases counted in schools with mask mandates.

The study looked at more than 500 counties between July 1 and Sept. 4. Researchers noted they took vaccination rates, community transmission rates, population, and poverty levels into account.

“It’s a two-way street,” Dr. Joe Perno, VP of Medical Affairs at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital said. “Not only are you protecting your own child but you’re also protecting other people in the school.”