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Mask mandate vs. no mask mandate: Comparing COVID-19 cases at two Houston-area school districts

There is a lot of debate over masking in schools, so we compared Spring ISD, which has a mandate, to Humble ISD, which does not.

HOUSTON — There has been a lot of discussion about mask mandates in Texas schools this month. Dozens of districts have mask mandates in place, despite Governor Greg Abbott’s ban, but the majority still do not.

Most schools in Texas are about three weeks into their school year, so what do the numbers say about masking in schools?

Spring ISD vs. Humble ISD

We are comparing Spring ISD, which has a mask mandate in place, to Humble ISD, which does not.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Spring ISD has 37,493 students and staff combined. The district’s COVID dashboard shows since Aug. 11, 733 COVID-19 cases have been reported district-wide.

According to Humble ISD, there are 51,758 students and staff combined. Since Aug. 10, the district reports 2,378 positive cases.

Since the districts aren’t the same size numbers wise, to compare, the cases need to be broken down to percentages. At Spring ISD, 1.95 percent of students and staff have tested positive for COVID. At Humble ISD, 4.59 percent have tested positive for COVID.

“There are over 200 percent more cases in a school (district) that does not have a mask mandate," said Dr. Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at UTHealth School of Public Health.

Increase in pediatric hospitalizations

Dr. Troisi said over the next few weeks, “it probably means that we are going to see an increase in pediatric hospitalizations. Children, luckily, are not likely to die, but some will. And it is particularly sad, because it’s preventable.”

Dr. Troisi says long COVID, which kids are getting, should be a concern, too.

“Will it be years? Will it be the rest of their life? We just don’t know," she said.

The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend kids and teachers wear masks in schools. Dr. Troisi agrees and adds that proper masking, if we want to get the pandemic behind us, is imperative.

“Every time that the virus replicates, there is a chance that a new variant will arise, and we are spinning the dice on a variant that the vaccine does not protect against. And then we are back to square one," she said.