Researchers from NC State, UNC study effectiveness of masks, random testing in schools

Original article by Gilat Melamed at CBS 17. Photo credit: CDC

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A local research team is looking at how COVID-19 spreads in school settings and how much mask-wearing and testing can help.

The study found without masks and random testing, more than 75 percent of students would get COVID-19 over a semester.

The study looked at “susceptible students,” those who are not vaccinated, and did not already have COVID-19.

Maria Mayorga, a personalized medicine professor at North Carolina State University, is part of the research team.

This is what the study found for elementary school students, who are too young to be vaccinated.

“By the end of the semester if we do not mask, 90 percent of the students who were not already infected would become infected with the virus,” Mayorga said. “So that’s way too many students and it would not be possible for the students to stay in school, probably something would happen before then where they would be sent home or to a virtual environment.”

Graphs from the study show masks reduce it to around 50 percent of students, and masks combined with random testing reduces it to just under 25 percent of elementary school students susceptible to the virus contracting COVID-19.

That’s without going virtual due to outbreaks.

Maria Mayorga CBS 17

Those numbers are lower in older grades because the study accounts for vaccinated students and those who already had COVID-19 (listed as incoming protection).

“If you introduce the mask requirements in the school you can reduce the number of infections by more than 50 percent,” Mayorga said.

Most central North Carolina school districts now have mask mandates.

This study has not been peer-reviewed. The team is comprised of researchers from N.C. State, UNC-Chapel Hill, Eastern Carolina University, and Georgia Tech.

You can read the full study here and see a slideshow of the presentation here.

Mayorga said the next step in their research is measuring the effect school mask policies can have on communities.