CDC article: masks and other mitigation efforts helped protect the nation's schools from COVID-19

Posted at 8:31 PM, Jan 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-31 22:31:48-05

BILLINGS — COVID-19 mitigation procedures like masking and social distancing have kept the bulk of COVID-19 out of the nation's schools, according to an article written by Centers for Disease Control researchers last week.

The viewpoint article was published in the medical journal JAMA and looked at COVID-19 data from schools across the United States and a hand full of schools from outside the country in the fall semester.

"The fall school semester has been reassuring insofar as the type of rapid spread that was frequently observed in congregate living facilities or high-density work sites has not been reported in education settings in schools," CDC researchers wrote.

Many schools across the country, and the public schools in Billings, opened their doors to in person classes at the beginning of the school year. The CDC researchers cited examples of schools where a majority of the school's COVID-19 infections were contracted outside of the school building.

The researchers wrote of a Mississippi case-control study of children aged zero to 18 that looked to find where kids were contracting COVID-19. Of 397 children in the study, 154 contracted the virus and 243 did not. They found kids that had attended gatherings outside of the home or had visitors to their home were more likely to get COVID-19. Kids in school classrooms were less likely to contract the disease.

COVID-19 protocols were responsible for keeping cases at a low number in Yellowstone County Schools. Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton told Billings school district trustees last week that the masks and other procedures have worked so far.

“To the extent that there are experts in COVID-19, all of the experts would have told us we never should have opened our schools in Yellowstone County in August. We’ve done really well. We’ve kept the schools open. We have not had mass closings of schools. There’s been a few classrooms here and there. There have been a couple of schools here and there. For the most part, we’ve been able to do really well. Part of the reason I think we’ve done so well is we’ve had our staff and our kids masked very consistently," Felton said.

So far this year, the Billings schools have seen 1,007 COVID-19 cases among students and staff, according to the latest tally. There are about 16,000 students enrolled in the Billings public schools.

Not all places on the school grounds are as apparently safe as the classroom. The CDC researchers called out school activities and sports are more risky places to pick up a case of COVID-19.

"Numerous media reports of COVID-19 outbreaks among US high school athletic teams suggest that contact during both practices and competition, and at social gatherings associated with team sports, increase risk," the researchers wrote.

The researchers wrote that a wrestling tournament in Florida in January 2021 was the source of a notable outbreak. Of 130 participants in the tournament, 38 tested positive for COVID-19 and created 446 close contacts. 62 of the close contacts were in the participant's households and 384 were close contacts identified from within the school.

The study authors wrote that less than half of the wrestlers at the tournament were tested for COVID-19.

The article was released as a "viewpoint" on the JAMA website. According to the journal's instructions for authors, viewpoint articles can address nearly any topic in medicine.

The article by the CDC researchers stated that their work was not to be interpreted as an official position of the CDC.