Do face masks in schools really work?

By The Health News Team | October 14, 2021
Father and son at school wearing masks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently looked at three separate studies on the use of face masks in schools and have determined that face masks — when used as part of a larger strategy — can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and prevent outbreaks in schools.

This definitive conclusion comes as school districts across the country have been grappling with keeping students, faculty and staff safe and on campus while also addressing some parents’ concerns regarding masking.

Here is what the three studies revealed:

Face masks prevent outbreaks.
A study in Arizona found that schools that didn’t start the school year with a mask requirement were 3.5 times more likely to have a COVID-19 outbreak than schools that started the school year with a mask requirement.

Face masks help reduce COVID-19 cases among school kids.
In another study, the CDC found that counties without school mask requirements experienced 35 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 students per day once the school year began, while counties that had school mask requirements experienced less than half that number with roughly 16 cases per 100,000 students per day.

Face masks help keep schools open.
An evaluation of data from school districts across the country found that COVID-19 prevention measures in schools are working, allowing 96% of districts to offer full in-person learning. However, approximately 1.5% of schools have had school closures due to COVID-19 outbreaks, affecting the education and well-being of nearly 1 million students. Such outbreaks, the data show, can be avoided with combined COVID prevention strategies, including universal indoor masking.

Masking recommendations and mandates
Referring to the three separate studies, the CDC continues to recommend that all schools follow its guidance for COVID-19 prevention in schools. Along with universal indoor masking in schools, the guidance includes:

  • Promoting vaccination for all eligible students, faculty and staff

  • Physical distancing of at least 3 feet when possible

  • Adequate ventilation

  • Regular hand-washing and respiratory etiquette

  • Regular cleaning and disinfection

  • Encouraging staff and students to stay home when sick

  • COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation when appropriate

In California, all students and adults in school settings are required to wear masks indoors. The state notes that universal masking indoors in schools is required by the California Department of Public Health and recommended by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which has stressed that everything possible must be done to keep students safe in schools. Masks must also be worn — regardless of vaccination status — in all other indoor public settings from December 15, 2021, through January 15, 2022.

According to the AAP, face masks play a key role in making in-person learning safe, and can be safely worn by children age 2 and older, including most children with underlying health conditions. Additionally, contrary to false information widely shared, the AAP reports that face masks do not block the oxygen students need, affect a student’s ability to focus or learn in school, affect a child's lungs from developing normally, lead to carbon dioxide poisoning, or weaken a child’s immune system.

Get COVID-19 vaccine information and access to COVID-19 resources from Sharp.

Get the best of Sharp Health News in your inbox

Our weekly email brings you the latest health tips, recipes and stories.