Colorado school districts mandating masks as students returned to class this summer have fewer coronavirus cases than those without a mask requirement, according to statistics released Thursday by state health officials.
“Rates tend to be higher in school districts where masks are not in place,” state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said Thursday in a news conference.
Herlihy said coronavirus infections have risen for children in recent weeks. As classes resumed, infection rates in school districts with mask mandates continued climbing but at nowhere near the rate suffered by districts that do not require masks.
“We see those lines diverge and you see that the lower case rates are associated with districts that are requiring masks in schools, again showing a clear impact that masks are having in decreasing transmission in our school settings,” Herlihy said.
Colorado dropped a statewide mask mandate in the spring, leaving local jurisdictions to decide whether masks should be required.
The data covers schools that kicked off their school year between Aug. 16-19 and excludes schools that have changed their masking policies since the start of the school year. In all, Herlihy said the data covered around 38% of Colorado public school enrollment.
Herlihy also noted that data dovetailed with vaccination rates among 12-17-year-olds, the youngest age group eligible for the vaccine.
For that age group, Herlihy said, case rates “tend to be higher in those counties where the vaccination rate among those vaccine eligible children is lower.” That matches findings she presented at a COVID-19 briefing early this week on the correlation between vaccinations rates and hospitalization rates for the state as a whole.
State COVID-19 Incident Commander Scott Bookman also provided an update on hospitalizations and hospital capacity, though those data points didn’t show a stark difference from the rates presented at a state COVID-19 briefing earlier this week.
“As Dr. Herlihy talked about with that unstable equilibrium where (cases) go up and down a little bit each day, we seem to be at a similar place with our hospitalizations,” Bookman said, noting the state has been floating between 875 to 900 COVID hospitalizations. “It's still incredibly high, equal to where we were during the first wave in the spring of 2020.”
Bookman also urged COVID-19 vaccinations, highlighting data showing 80% of hospitalizations from COVID-19 stem from those who are not vaccinated.
“I want to really just reiterate that our hospitalizations are a pandemic of the unvaccinated at this point,” he said.