The use of face masks in classrooms made “no significant difference” in COVID-19 infection rates, according to a new study.
A cohort of researchers from several universities and hospitals in Spain came to the conclusion by analyzing COVID-19 transmission rates, age, and the mandated use of face masks in classrooms across the region of Catalonia.
The study – “Unravelling the Role of the Mandatory use of Face Covering Masks for the Control of SARS-CoV-2 in Schools: a Quasi-Experimental Study Nested in a Population-Based Cohort in Catalonia (Spain)” – compiled data from 1,907 schools with a total of 599,314 pupils during the first term of the 2021 academic year. It was included in August’s edition of the peer-reviewed journal
Though COVID-19 variants such as Omicron occurred outside of the timeframe of the study, researchers maintain it is “unlikely that the effectiveness of the mask mandate measure will increase with a more transmissible variant.”
“We analysed routinely collected health data to compare the incidence of SARS-CoV-2, secondary attack rates and the effective reproductive number among school children, comparing those without mandatory face covering masks (FCM) and those with FCM during the first term of the school year 2021–2022, to assess the effect of FCM mandates on SARS-CoV-2 transmission within schools,” explains a summary of the work.
Researchers focused on comparing children in the last year of preschool (P5) and the first year of primary education, as the younger group had no face mask mandate, whereas the older group did.
“The aim of our study was not to measure the individual effectiveness of FCM, but to evaluate the effectiveness of mask mandates in the real-world context of schools,” prefaced researchers.
“The main findings of the study show no significant differences for children in the last grade of preschool (P5) and the first year of primary education in COVID-19 transmission indicators during the study period, despite their difference in FCM mandate and the strong age dependency of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in schools,” explained researchers.
“The age trend observed for P5 and older children follows a different pattern when P3 and P4 are included in the analysis,” the study continued.
“With no mandatory use of FCM, the youngest children have significantly lower transmission indicators when compared with any other group.”
“In conclusion, FCM mandates in schools showed no significant differences in terms of transmission. Conversely, we found that age is a key component explaining transmission in children,” summarized researchers.
The Spanish case study follows additional studies demonstrating the failed efficacy of face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, even exacerbating the spread of the virus in certain demographics.