Over the last two years, the issue of the value of masks in preventing contagion of Covid-19 has been a hotly contested matter, among scientists and among the public. Through the early months of the pandemic, it became increasingly clear that the virus spread through the air, through inhalation, (rather than, say, through the contact of human skin with solid surfaces) and the idea of intercepting it as it passed out of one mouth, or perhaps as it moved toward another, had obvious appeal.
There are arguments against masking, and mask mandates, that go beyond the question of the transmission numbers. For example, one can maintain that the wearing of masks interferes with socialization, which is one of the great benefits of in-person schooling. Or one can maintain that masks, and the distraction of enforcing school rules about them, complicate the basic task of teaching itself.
Still, it would be good to have a straightforward answer to a question that forms one important piece of the overall policy puzzle: do masks work?
In Pill Form:
A recent study, published online in Pediatrics, provides evidence that masks do work, especially for the young. Researchers found that during the “delta variant” wave of the long Covid-19 pandemic, schools that required masking had only one quarter as many instances of in-school coronavirus transmission as schools with either optional or partial masking policies.