Editor’s note: The story below has been updated to correct the odds of a COVID-19 outbreak, which are 3.5 times higher in a school where masks are not required compared to schools with an early mandate, as stated by Indira Gujral, communicable disease and emergency management division manager for Boulder County Public Health in Boulder.
Despite parents and Boulder County residents pleas to end the mask mandate, officials with the county’s board of health stood by their decision Monday to continue masking as coronavirus cases rise among residents, particularly children.
“I do think it certainty reinforces my vote from August before school started in terms of why this was an important public health order,” said Board of Public Health President Gregg Thomas. “You can look at CDPHE’s data, (Colorado) School of Public Health’s modeling, who are the experts, and their numbers have been pretty spot on.”
The Boulder County Board of Public Health met Monday to discuss how the county has been faring since implementing its mask mandate in early September and since school began in August.
Before returning to school this fall, the board of health implemented a mask mandate for all students and staff while inside a school building. During the meeting, a parent urged the board to end the mandate, saying it is harming kids’ mental health.
“Simply put, requiring the teachers put a mask on my very young children is hurting them,” said Matt Gotschall. “Their mental health is not just at risk, you are actively damaging it. If there’s one thing we’re sure of, it’s the children are not contracting or spreading this virus in large numbers.”
Indira Gujral, communicable disease and emergency management division manager for Boulder County Public Health in Boulder, said the odds of a COVID-19 outbreak are 3.5 times higher in a school where masks are not required compared to schools with an early mandate.
She cited research from Arizona which looked at two counties that represent 75% of the state’s kindergarten through 12th grade population. Each district had a different mask policy and 48% of them did not have any policy. Out of the 191 COVID-19 outbreaks between July 15 and Aug. 31, 60% were in schools without an early mask mandate.
“The CDC does use this as a foundational study to help guide and demonstrate that masks are effective in preventing spread and outbreaks,” she said.
She added that the COVID-19 case numbers in Colorado are elevated for kids 6 to 11 years old.
“This group is not vaccine eligible, they are in school settings, which means that they’re closer to peers, that people may be sick and they don’t know, and then there’s varying mask policies that are happening across the state and then you throw on top of it the delta variant, which we know is two times more transmissible — it’s actually not surprising that we see these high rates in the age group.”
Lexi Nolen, Boulder County Public Health deputy director, said based on all of the research BCPH does as well as the studies it looks at nationally and globally, it knows that the mask order and vaccination rate is creating a safer community.
“Our strategy and policy developments come from a variety of sources,” she said. “They come from epidemiological information, they’re informed by our community characteristics, by our local health care capacity and by our public health capacity. There are a lot of dynamics and considerations that go into trying to think about what makes sense, what’s smart (and) what balances with safety and comfort for folks.”