Data collected by ACHI on mask policies in Arkansas public school districts allowed researchers to determine that mask requirements had a significant impact on COVID-19 transmission in Arkansas schools in the early weeks of the current school year, according to a study published today (March 8) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The study, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, finds that between Aug. 23 and Oct. 16, while the delta variant was surging, Arkansas school districts with universal mask requirements had a 23% lower average rate of COVID-19 cases among students and staff members compared with districts without mask requirements.
ACHI began compiling a database of mask policies in Arkansas public school districts in August. Researchers with ACHI, the Arkansas Department of Health, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and the CDC used information from that database, along with information from ADH’s COVID-19 surveillance database and the Arkansas Department of Education’s enrollment data, to examine the impact of mask requirements.
ACHI’s database groups districts into three categories: those with full mask requirements, meaning they have universal requirements applying to all students and staff members; those with partial mask requirements, meaning they have requirements that apply only in certain settings, among certain populations, or if specific criteria, such as social distancing, cannot be met; and those with no mask requirements.
The study found that among districts with partial mask requirements, the COVID-19 case rate was 12% lower compared with districts without mask requirements.
Researchers also found that on average, COVID-19 case rates were higher among students and staff members than among people in the surrounding communities, highlighting the potential for schools to be high-risk places for COVID-19 transmission.
“This is an excellent example of how nimble responsiveness and local-level data can help in responding to public health issues,” said ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson. “Throughout the pandemic, ACHI helped inform local decision makers, including the policymakers, school leaders, and parents who enabled this study. Future emergency response planning must include data and communication strategies to support these local decision makers.”
A frequently updated list of Arkansas school districts’ mask policies is available on our COVID-19 in Arkansas page.