An analysis by the New York Magazine (NYM) of a recently published Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) large-scale study of COVID transmission in U.S. schools found little scientific support for masks in schools.
More troubling, the analysis by the NYM found that CDC failed to mention in the summary of the study the findings that indicated little support for some of the most common COVID mitigation measures in schools, including masks for students.
According to the NYM, the study published by the CDC covered more than 90,000 elementary-school students in 169 Georgia schools from November 16 to December 11. The study, according to the CDC, was the first of its kind to compare COVID-19 incidence in schools with certain mitigation measures in place to other schools without those measures.
The study found that masking then-unvaccinated teachers and improving ventilation with more fresh air were associated with a lower incidence of the virus in schools.
What was not included in the summary was the finding that many of the most common mitigation measures in schools were not effective. These measures included distancing, hybrid models, classroom barriers, HEPA filters, and requiring student masking.
The NYM spoke with scientists who” believe that the decision not to include the null effects of a student masking requirement (and distancing, hybrid models, etc.) in the summary amounted to ‘file drawering’ these findings, a term researchers use for the practice of burying studies that don’t produce statistically significant results.”
“That a masking requirement of students failed to show independent benefit is a finding of consequence and great interest,” says Vinay Prasad, an associate professor in University of California, San Francisco’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.
“It should have been included in the summary.” “The summary gives the impression that only masking of staff was studied,” says Tracy Hoeg, an epidemiologist and the senior author of a separate CDC study on COVID-19 transmission in schools, “when in reality there was this additional important detection about a student-masking requirement not having a statistical impact.”
“A year ago, I said, ‘Masks are not the end of the world; why not just wear a mask?’” Elissa Schechter-Perkins, the director of Emergency Medicine Infectious Disease Management at Boston Medical Center, told me. “But the world has changed, there are real downsides to masking children for this long, with no known end date, and without any clear upside.”
She continued, “I’m not aware of any studies that show conclusively that kids wearing masks in schools has any effect on their own morbidity or mortality or on the hospitalization or death rate in the community around them.”
With regards to the Delta variant, Schecter-Perkins said, “I don’t think that Delta changes the calculus because it still seems clear that it doesn’t cause more severe disease, so it still doesn’t change the fundamental question of ‘What are we trying to achieve by masking kids when they are still extremely unlikely to suffer from severe illness or death if infected?’ And the adults in their lives have the opportunity to be vaccinated and also protected so we don’t need to worry about transmission.”
The pediatric immunologist said, “Even with a new variant, the onus is on those who recommend masking kids to robustly demonstrate a meaningful benefit, especially when the pre-Delta study of the Georgia schools did not find one, and when there are obvious socio-emotional and educational harms from masking children for this unprecedented duration of time.”