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School without mask mandates more likely to have COVID outbreaks, study says

New CDC studies show more COVID-19 cases in counties without school mask mandates. What are we seeing in Georgia?

ATLANTA — New studies released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlight the effectiveness of mask-wearing tied to low COVID-19 numbers in schools.

The studies are part of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality weekly report.

One report found that counties that had no mask requirements in schools had a higher rate of pediatric COVID-19 cases after the beginning of the school year compared to schools that did have requirements.

The study highlights that schools that required masks had 16.32 cases per 100,000 children in the first week of classes, compared to schools without, which had 34.85 cases per 100,000 children. All children were included in the data - not just school-aged.

This does not come as a surprise to Nick Hodge, who is a High School English teacher at a district where masks are encouraged, but not required.

"I'm fortunate that at least what I'm risking myself for is really worthwhile," he said. "I would say, around 1/3 of [students] wear masks and about 2/3 of them do not. I think given the political climate that we're in, I think if they were to mandate masks, that it would be almost as damaging to the community as doing what they're doing. So I mean, they're in a tough spot."

Credit: Provided.
Nick Hodge (center) is an English High School teacher

Hodge says that after several outbreaks at the beginning of the school year, mask-wearing has become more common. Even he and his wife, who are both vaccinated, had the virus. His wife is also an educator.

"At the beginning of the year, we had a terrible outbreak," he said. "We have a small school in the neighborhood –  about 60 kids had it out of about 450 students. That's a pretty good number of students. The number of cases that we've had has dropped dramatically and I will say more of the students are wearing masks."

Another part of the CDC's study highlights data from schools in two of Arizona's most populous counties. It found that K-12 students in those counties were 3.5 times "more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks if they did not have a mask requirement at the start of school compared with schools that required universal masking on day one. "

In Georgia, the Department of Public Health’s school surveillance report from the past two weeks shows that statewide cases among K-12 students have decreased.

Cobb and DeKalb counties are seeing numbers go down, while Fulton and Gwinnett counties have gone down but by less than 5%.

"I don't think we're done with it. I certainly hope we are but I doubt that we are," Hodge added.

Our Reveal Investigator, Rebecca Lindstrom, analyzed how the virus' spread varies between Georgia districts that do and don't mandate masks since the start of the school year. For that story, click here.