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Is it time to really get rid of the masks? Harvard Researchers say no.

BOSTON, Mass. — Mask mandates are beginning to end across the U-S as the COVID-19 virus slowly becomes less threatening. But, a new study from Harvard warns it’s still soon to drop these strict guidelines in schools.

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Scientists from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) report ending mask policies now would put school staff, students, and parents at increased risk of COVID-19 infection. 

Researches believe local COVID infection rates across the country need to be much lower before schools even consider lifting mask mandates.

“It is critical that communities have a conversation about their goals for in-school mitigation measures,” says senior study author Andrea Ciaranello, MD.

Where does the covid infection rate need to be?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 37 million children currently attend K-5 schools in the United States. Despite young students making up such a sizable portion of the U.S. population, study authors claim administrators in charge of these schools have been provided with little guidance on when to lift or change mask policies.

Researchers used a series of model-based simulations to estimate how changes in mask policies may influence infection rates among teachers, students, school staff, and parents. In general, that analysis concluded the “best time” to either end or reinstate a mask policy really depends on the goals of a particular school’s leaders. Still, the research team concludes that if an elementary school wants to maintain a reasonably safe environment for everyone, now is not the time to be lifting mask mandates. Local case rates across the nation should drop considerably before that happens.

Researchers also note that a number of additional factors can influence these calculations, such as vaccination rates and whether or not a school implements regular COVID testing on-site. 

This study focused on the Delta variant, but study authors are confident their work applies to other variants as well.

The team published their findings in JAMA Network Open.

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