School mask mandates prove effective in curbing COVID-19 outbreaks


Although controversial, masks are proving to be a crucial part in keeping the number of COVID-19 cases in school down.

Marina Berger and Grace Wartmann

Just as putting on socks each day is something done without thought, grabbing a mask before leaving the house has become an intrinsic part of many people’s daily routine.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, masks have become a conventional, precautionary measure of everyday life. However, with the widespread distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, the enforcement of mask mandates have ultimately been left to the individual states and school districts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests masking in schools, but official policies can vary drastically across state and county borders.

As of November 2021, sixteen states and the District of Columbia require masks in K-12 schools and nine states have banned school districts from setting mask mandates. 26 states have allowed the local school districts to decide for themselves.

The effectiveness of mask mandates in schools was illustrated in a press release issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Sept. 24, 2021. One report based in Arizona, a state that banned the mandate, compared the amount of positive cases between their schools and states with schools that did have a mask mandate. According to the report, the state’s most populous counties were 3.5 times more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks if they did not have a mask requirement at the start of the school year.

Biology and forensics teacher Leah Morgan shared that Toms River North High School, the school her daughter attends, went mask-optional for the first two weeks and “by the third week of school they had 900 kids quarantined in the district.”

Chemistry and forensics teacher Erin Wheeler gave her perspective on how the New Jersey mask mandate is affecting COVID-19 cases at CHS.

“I think us wearing masks has obviously been helpful. We’ve had very limited cases of COVID here at CHS,” said Wheeler. “I also think a lot of people here are vaccinated too, so I think that is also contributing to our low case number.”

There is no clear answer to how long the mask mandates will remain in place, but as more students get vaccinated, the rules could change. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy explains that the approval of Pfizer shots in kids ages 5 to 11 could be a new advancement in mask regulations.

“I would hope this is the beginning of a process — I can’t tell you exactly when — but that we will be able to get to that place [of not requiring masks in schools] sooner than later,” said Murphy at a pandemic media briefing, according to N.J. Spotlight News.

Wheeler gives her thoughts on how long mask mandates will persist in N.J. schools, explaining that student body vaccinations may play into the regulations.

“There may be some new stipulations that come out that say, ‘if you can prove that this many people are vaccinated in your school, you don’t have to wear a mask anymore,” Wheeler said.