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Arkansas survey’s findings on mask mandates and school coronavirus cases, explained

by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette , Nyssa Kruse | September 9, 2021 at 1:05 p.m.
In this Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, file photo, fifth-grader Marcques Haley, gets his temperature checked by school nurse Rachel White before entering Stephens Elementary School in Little Rock, Ark. Most Arkansas public school students will be required to wear masks when 2001 classes begin in mid-August 2021, following moves by dozens of districts in response to a judge blocking the state's mask mandate ban. (Tommy Metthe/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP, File)

This story is a part of The Article, your guide to Arkansas news and culture, presented by the Democrat-Gazette. Sign up for The Article's twice-weekly newsletter here or to see stories that have appeared in past newsletters, go here.

A Bureau of Legislative Research survey of the state's public schools showed a higher percentage of students and employees with covid-19 in districts without full mask policies than in districts with such policies.

The survey also revealed that a larger percentage of students and staff members were quarantined as a result of covid-19 in districts that had no mask policies than in those with full mask policies.

Back up: What was this survey and how was it conducted?

Bureau officials sent a survey to schools early in the morning on Sept. 1 and asked the superintendents to respond that afternoon, she said.

The bureau received 180 responses to its survey, a 70% response rate. The bureau divided the school districts and charter school systems into two groups. The first was about 80 school districts or charter school systems that had full mask policies in place for two full weeks.

The second group of about 100 districts and charter systems included about 63 that had no full mask policies as of Sept. 1; about 17 that had partial mask policies; and about 20 that had full mask policies in place for less than two full weeks.

What were the results of the survey?

The survey showed 8.5% of students quarantined in schools without mask policies compared with 4.6% of students in those with mask policies.

It also showed 1.9% of the employees were quarantined in districts and systems without full mask policies, compared with 1.1% of the employees in those with mask policies.

As for infections, the survey showed 1.3% of employees were positive for covid-19 in schools without full mask policies compared with 0.9% in schools with mask policies.

The survey showed 1.4% of students positive for covid-19 in schools without mask policies compared with 1.2% in those with mask policies.

All results were considered statistically significant except the difference between student positivity in the two groups.

How did lawmakers respond?

Rep. John Payton, R-Wilburn, questioned if the higher quarantine rates in schools without full mask policies was because of the state’s quarantine policy.

Individuals exposed to a confirmed case will not need to quarantine if the individual exposed has no symptoms, and both the infected and exposed individuals consistently and correctly were wearing masks.

Other legislators asked if the survey had accounted for the vaccination statuses of students or staff and were told it did not. They also asked whether the positive cases originated in school settings or not, a question not broached by the survey.

Read more about the survey and its results from reporters Mike Wickline and Stephen Simpson and sign up for our education newsletter, Grade Point Arkansas.

You can also go here to see a list of districts with mask mandates in place.

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