Study finds fewer COVID-19 cases in Georgia schools requiring masks, improved ventilation

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used Georgia elementary schools to study mitigation of the spread of SARS-CoV-2 during in-person learning, concluding mask-wearing and improved ventilation showed reduced COVID-19 spread.

COVID-19 incidence was 37% lower in schools that required teachers and staff members to use masks and 39% lower in schools that improved ventilation.

The study was conducted between Nov. 16, 2020, and Dec. 11, 2020, using COVID-19 case data submitted by schools to the Georgia Department of Public Health. 

The CDC also gathered information from Georgia schools regarding characteristics of the individual schools (including metropolitan or non-metropolitan settings and the instructional model), student characteristics (including the racial/ethnic distribution) and prevention strategies (including mask requirements and ventilation improvements). 

The CDC reported 169 of Georgia's 1,461 schools in 51of 159 counties completed the survey. More than 95% of the schools were public schools. 

Data from the CDC showed elementary schools with optional mask-wearing reported 3.81 cases per 500 students during the study while schools with mask requirements reported 2.44 cases per 500 students. Schools with ventilation improvements reported 2.61 cases per 500 students while schools with no recent improvements reported 4.19 cases per 500 students. 

Furthermore, the study indicated that dilution — opening doors, opening windows or using fans — was more effective at reducing spread than using no ventilation improvements, but not as effective as High-Efficiency Particulate Air filtration systems in high-risk areas. 

CDC guidance recommends schools still follow prevention strategies, which include mask-wearing and social distancing, to prevent the spread of the virus until more children are able to be vaccinated. 

The COVID-19 vaccine became available to children as young as 12 years old on May 12, meaning students will not be fully vaccinated by the end of their current school years.

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