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ND research warns Indiana K-12 schools to enforce masks, safety precautions

| Tuesday, September 15, 2020

A recent study conducted by researchers at Notre Dame modeled coronavirus transmissions in classrooms and cautioned Indiana K-12 schools to enforce mask wearing and limited capacity, or face grim consequences.

Alex Perkins, an expert of infectious disease epidemiology and population biology and member of the Notre Dame Eck Institute for Global Health, said the objective of the research was to study how health interventions within K-12 schools could impact the larger Indiana COVID-19 situation.

The study concluded that schools with little to no compliance towards safety precautions, such as mask wearing, could increase coronavirus infections to 2.49 million cases in Indiana, with more than 9,000 deaths by the end of the year.

“Without interventions like face masks and reduced capacity in classrooms, the threat of infection in the state alone is very concerning,” Perkins said.

To conduche team gathered data such as reported cases, deaths, hospitalizations and tests in Indiana, and then simulated the transmission of the virus.

The study projected outcomes from the last two weeks of August through the end of the year. The study also accounted for variables such as asymptomatic infection and the various of infection between children and adults.

“There are some scenarios we did not examine in this study,” Perkins said, such as differences between groups attending classes in-person or remotely, the different methods of modularization employed by various schools and school districts and testing strategies.

Models for K-12 students, teachers and families were each studied separately. Transmission rates were tested in multiple different scenarios such as schools at 50, 75 and 100% capacity and 50, 75, and 100% mask wearing compliance.

In the study, schools opening at full capacity without face masks led to 2.49 million infections and 9,117 deaths.

In a scenario of fully remote instruction, shelter-in-place practices and face mask compliance within communities at mid-August levels, the researchers estimated 19,527 cases of infection and 360 deaths through the remainder of the year.

In the scenario of 50% capacity adhering to face mask wearing, similar results to full remote instruction were achieved.

Schools operating at “high levels” of capacity with low face mask compliance also concluded in a higher risk of death for teachers and family members.

“What these results show clearly, however, is how face mask compliance and reducing capacity in schools could significantly impact the burden of COVID-19 on Indiana residents as their children return to school,” Perkins said.

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