Regular COVID-19 testing in Austin schools could be more effective than mask wearing, UT analysis shows

Education

A student takes a COVID-19 test at Somerset ISD, Bexar County, during the 2020-2021 school year. The district says it’s conducting assurance testing again this year, a process San Marcos CISD is also pursuing. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new analysis done by the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium shows regular testing and mask wearing together could reduce the spread of COVID-19 dramatically in Austin schools.

Researchers loosely modeled a small elementary school in the Austin Independent School District to run different scenarios and record the theoretical outcomes. The results were posted Tuesday, though they have not been peer reviewed. The UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium said they published the study now “to provide intuition for policy makers, schools and the public regarding COVID-19 transmission within schools and effective strategies for preventing transmission.”

The projections are for a 10-week period. Here are some of the findings:

  • If half of students opt to wear masks in schools, researchers expect there would be 34% fewer COVID-19 infections
  • If all students wore a mask, there would be 60% fewer infections, according to the modeling
  • If students are tested once a week for COVID-19, even without requiring masks, researchers expect there would be 78% fewer infections
  • If students were tested once per month, there would be 46% fewer infections, according to the modeling

Where models found the most success in curbing the spread of COVID-19 was the combination of those efforts.

  • If half of students wear masks, and all students are tested every week, there would be as many as 84% fewer infections, researchers found.
  • Without face masks and proactive testing, the research found that even in low transmission scenarios, 11% of students in local school districts will be infected with COVID-19 over the next 10 weeks. That number only goes up for moderate and high transmission scenarios, with up to 33% of students getting the virus.

The projections also found that separating students into all-mask and no-mask classrooms would lower infection risks for students in the mask classrooms and increase risks for students who are in the no mask classrooms. It would not impact the overall infection rate at the school, though.

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