North Dakota study: Masks in schools hardly impacted COVID spread

A new study on masks in schools has found “limited to no” impact on student COVID-19 cases, shared The 74.

The study engaged in a “natural experiment” of two adjacent K-12 school districts in Fargo, N.D. — one that had a mask mandate during the fall of the 2021-22 school year and one that did not. That winter, both districts had a masks-optional policy.

The results?

“We observed no significant difference between student case rates while the districts had differing masking policies,” stated the study’s three authors, “nor while they had the same mask policies. … Our findings contribute to a growing body of literature which suggests school-based mask mandates have limited to no impact on the case rates of COVID-19 among K-12 students.”

Source: “Association between School Mask Mandates and SARS-CoV-2 Student Infections”

Unique study

Both school districts studied — Fargo Public Schools and West Fargo Public Schools — have similar student demographics (West Fargo serves slightly more low-income and minority students), COVID-19 mitigation policies (Fargo’s quarantining policy was stricter), and staff vaccination rates.

The Fargo school district started the fall 2021 semester with a mandated mask policy, while the West Fargo school district did not. The Fargo district then made masks optional on January 17, 2022. This partial crossover paired with the districts’ similar size and adjacent location within a county add to the strength of the study, according to the authors. The study period also included data from both the delta and omicron waves.

Results consistent with other studies

The authors of this North Dakota study stated their findings are “consistent with adult randomized data on community cloth masking, multiple observational studies of school mask mandates, and a systematic review of medical or surgical cloth masking for influenza.”

School mask mandates have been a very contentious issue these past couple of years, especially given that the impact of masking on COVID transmission in children is not fully established. Physicians and scientists have claimed that science does not support masking as an effective measure against the coronavirus, and other doctors and researchers have also concluded that student masking has no scientifically established benefit in real-world use.