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Wearing masks in school reduces COVID-19-related school closures, study finds

Experts say these policies can help ensure that kids are getting in-person education

Children wearing masks in school
Photo (c) Halfpoint Images - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Yale University explored how certain safety measures may help limit school closures related to COVID-19. According to their findings, schools were between 13% and 14% less likely to close when kids wore masks in school. 

“We have been seeing increasing numbers of children, especially young children not yet able to be vaccinated against COVID-19, admitted to our children’s hospital,” said researcher Thomas Murray. “It is heartening to know that following child masking recommendations for children two years and older may be an effective means for keeping young children in child care programs and potentially lowering their risk for COVID-19.” 

Keeping schools open safely

For the study, the researchers surveyed over 6,600 child care professionals who worked in either center-based or home-based child care programs. The participants answered questions twice – once in May 2020, and again in May 2021 – about how often their programs were closed due to COVID-19 infection or exposure, their mask-wearing policies for children, and other safety strategies that were being employed. 

The participants reported that 43% of their programs were forced to close temporarily at some point between May 2020, and May 2021, because of COVID-19. However, after evaluating several different safety measures that these programs had employed, the researchers learned that kids wearing masks was the most effective at keeping schools open. 

Mask-wearing was associated with a 13% to 14% lower risk of school closures related to COVID-19. For comparison, the study showed that social distancing by itself was linked with only a 7% lower risk of COVID-19 school closures. 

At the beginning of the study, just 9% of the child care facilities required children two years and older to wear face masks. By the summer of 2021, that figure jumped to 33%.

The researchers explained that keeping kids in school is of the utmost importance. Ensuring that children have safe, healthy places to learn and develop social skills is crucial to their overall well-being. 

“We know that children benefit from in-person learning opportunities, and that includes young children, and we know that many parents rely on child care in order to go to work,” said researcher Walter Gilliam. “Child masking will not eliminate all child care closures, but it may help reduce some of them, keeping our young children with caring adults who support their learning and development.” 

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