TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Pima County Health co-authored a new study published Friday which shows the odds of a school-related COVID-19 outbreak are 3.5 times more likely in schools without mask mandates than in schools which had a mandate at the start of the school year.
Maricopa County Public Health, Arizona State University and the CDC partnered with Pima County on the study. It pulled data from 999 K-12 schools in Maricopa and Pima County from July 15 to Aug. 31 of this year.
“Because school starts so early here in Arizona, it gives us kind of a unique advantage of being able to take an early look at the data,” said Megan Jehn, an epidemiologist and associate professor at Arizona State who was a lead author of the study.
The data validates local public health experts’ messaging.
“Masking is critical in schools,” Pima County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen said Friday. “It is how we have now been able to show a significant impact on the amount of outbreaks that occur in the classroom… What I am hoping is this article itself provides additional data-driven information to help make parents make the right decisions about masking and their students, and staff and teachers in the schools.”
Mask mandates in schools remain a point of contention in Arizona.
On Thursday, the Tucson Unified School District board voted unanimously to keep its mask mandate, despite the state’s mask mandate ban set to go into effect on Wednesday, Sep. 29.
Gov. Doug Ducey has said previously he supports voluntary safety measures, but not mandates.
In response to TUSD’s decision, his office sent KGUN this statement: “We expect Arizona’s school districts to follow the law.”
Health experts are are watching the approaching legal change closely.
“I will tell you the date of September 29th concerns me,” Cullen said. “After September 29th, I think we don’t know what we’re going to see. So it’ll be interesting. You’ll have to give us two to three weeks after that time for us to be able to predict.”
“When it comes down to it, the data is clear,” John said. “Masks are highly beneficial to reducing transmission in a school setting.”
A judge is considering whether or not the new state law banning mask mandates was passed constitutionally. That ruling could come before the law is set to go into effect on Sep. 29th.