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Covid-19 spreads less in schools where teachers and staff wear masks

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had recently issued guidance for vaccinated people to forgo masks. However, in a new study, the agency has reinforced the message saying that Covid-19 spreads less in schools where teachers and staff wear masks, the media reported.

The latest study comes from Georgia and compares Covid-19 infection rates across 169 K-5 schools, the NPR.org reported. Some schools required teachers, staff and sometimes students to wear masks; some did not.

The researchers found that, between November 16 and December 11, infection rates were 37 per cent lower in schools where teachers and staff members were required to wear masks. The difference between schools that did and did not require students to wear masks was not statistically significant.

This is one more study showing that masking, among other mitigation efforts, "can reduce infections and ultimately save lives," Sean O'Leary, Professor of paediatrics at the University of Colorado was quoted as saying.

O'Leary pointed to a previous CDC study, of schools in Florida, that also found "a strong association with student mask requirements and lower rates of infections in students."

Many states including Texas, Iowa have announced a ban on masks in schools. But, public health experts have flagged concerns, the report said.

"All along in this pandemic, we have seen the tragic consequences when politics start to play a role in public health decisions. And to me, this kind of manoeuver smells like politics — to ban the requirements that are ultimately there to save lives," O'Leary said. "The body of evidence shows us that masks work."

Aaron Milstone, Professor of paediatric infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University, has likened the banning of mask mandates to having a variable speed limit.

While the CDC recently scaled back its masking guidance for fully vaccinated people, it also reiterated that schools should continue to require universal masking, at least through the end of the current school year, the report said.

Milstone said it's simply too early to talk about schools without masking. "Until vaccines are eligible for all children, it's hard to abandon the practices that we know work the best to prevent the spread of Covid," he noted.