143: NIH Study on Masking in Schools

Dr. Sonia Lee, Acting Branch Chief of the NICHD Maternal and Pediatric Infectious Disease Branch at the National Institutes of Health, explains the findings of a new study measuring the impact of mask wearing in schools; Dr. Haley Cash, an...

Spotify podcast player badge
Apple Podcasts podcast player badge
Amazon Music podcast player badge
Google Podcasts podcast player badge

Dr. Sonia Lee, Acting Branch Chief of the NICHD Maternal and Pediatric Infectious Disease Branch at the National Institutes of Health, explains the findings of a new study measuring the impact of mask wearing in schools; Dr. Haley Cash, an epidemiologist with the Pacific Island Health Officers Association, says public health leaders in several Pacific island jurisdictions have learned many lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic; ASTHO President Elect Dr. Anne Zink of Alaska answers questions in a new ASTHO blog article offered in recognition of Women’s History Month; and there’s still time to register for Wednesday’s Insight and Inspiration event with author and teacher Dr. Bruce Perry.

NIH News Release: Mandatory masking in schools reduced COVID-19 cases during Delta surge

Pediatrics article: School Masking Policies and Secondary SARS-CoV2 Transmission

ASTHO Public Health Review Podcast webpage

ASTHO Blog Article: Leadership Trailblazers Spotlight – Anne Zink, Chief Medical Officer of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services

ASTHO Insight and Inspiration Series: Dr. Bruce Perry

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Tuesday, March 22nd, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


A new study from the National Institutes of Health says schools with mandatory masking during the COVID-19 Delta surge had about 72% fewer cases of in-school transmission when compared to schools with optional or partial masking policies. The research appears in Pediatrics, a publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Dr. Sonia Lee is with the NIH. We hear more from her in today's morning conversation.

Tell us what you learned in your recent study regarding the impact mask mandates in schools had on containing the Delta variant.


So, that study found that mandatory masking in schools, specifically during the Delta surge, resulted in significantly fewer cases of in-school transmission of SARS-CoV-2—and this was among both students and staff—in comparison to schools that had optional or partial masking policies.


How did you feel about those findings? Is that what you expected? Were you surprised?


The study findings were not surprising to me. I did feel that the ability to confirm the importance of masking was important as a COVID-19 prevention strategy and a way to really think about how to keep children, teachers, and supporting staff safe in school and, importantly, to keep schools open for in-person learning.


Can you drill down a little bit more into the findings and give us a sense for the results that you turned up during the study?



The study was a nationwide study, so it followed 61 school districts, it included kindergarten through grade 12—students and staff—and it was conducted during the Delta surge. So, this was a study that collected data from the end of July in 2021 through mid December, again in 2021. And the findings really were able to capture what was going on during the Delta surge and capture how schools were making decisions about masking.


How do you hope data like this could be used by school districts who are coming under fire quite often for requiring masks, or by public health officials who want people to wear their masks? How can this data help?


My hope is that, as we continue to make decisions regarding masking and other mitigation strategies to help with prevention in schools, that we consider such data from studies like these; but also CDC recommendations for educational settings, again with the focus to keeping children, teachers, and the staff safe and in-person learning; and that we also consider COVID-19 levels as well as vaccination levels in one's community to make these decisions.


You can read the report using the link in the show notes.


From the early days of the pandemic, people in the Pacific Islands have worried that even one case of the virus could quickly turn into a public health crisis. That's why these U.S. territories and Freely Associated States have done all they can to manage traffic into and out of their island homes.

Dr. Haley Cash is an epidemiologist with the Pacific Island Health Officers Association. She says responders have learned many lessons, including how to deal with COVID-19 and everything else.


We all had to think outside of the box about how to deliver health programs and deliver health services in a more non-traditional fashion. So, I think it'll be great to think about how we can weave those alternative health delivery systems into future responses to make sure that we can continue to deliver routine healthcare and other health programs while also responding to emergencies, given this long-term pandemic we've all been through.


Hear the full conversation with Dr. Haley Cash in an upcoming episode of the Public Health Review podcast, available everywhere you stream audio.


ASTHO president elect Dr. Anne Zink is a leader and a trailblazer in Alaska and across the nation. Now, she's featured in a new ASTHO blog article to celebrate Women's History Month. Dr. Zink tells us about three women who inspire her public health work and reveals the most meaningful accomplishments of her career so far. There's a link to the article in the show notes.


Finally today, if you haven't registered for ASTHO's first Insight and Inspiration event with Dr. Bruce Perry, we're not exactly sure what's holding you back. ASTHO's Robin Matthies told us Friday all about Dr. Perry—she says he's a can't-miss guest. Go back two days and listen for yourself, or just take our word for it and sign up now. The event is tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 PM Eastern time—it's online and free. Look for the registration link in the show notes.


Before we go, we want to remind you to leave us a rating and a review—they help raise our profile, and that makes it easier for new listeners to find us online. Also, if you follow the show, you'll never miss a single report. You can do all of this on the channel you're listening to right now.


That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Haley Cash PhD MPH

Regional NCD Epidemiologist for the USAPIs, PIHOA

Sonia Lee PhD

Acting Branch Chief, NICHD Maternal and Pediatric Infectious Disease, NIH