Q&A – Were Florida’s School Mask Mandates Effective?
Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.
Gettr, Parler & Twitter: @brianmuddradio
Today’s entry: Brian, I have looked high and low for an answer to this question. You do an amazing job uncovering the hard to find stories. Florida’s school mask mandate has been in effect for several months now – in certain counties. Shouldn’t there be enough data available to determine if counties with mask mandates fared better than counties without mask mandates? Wouldn’t that answer be the best argument for or against themandates. Everyone has an opinion, but the data is the data.
Thank you again, I love your show.
Bottom Line: I love your line about the data being the data. So, true. The reason you’ve not found a concrete answer to your question is because it’s complicated from a scientific standpoint. Like any scientific experiment, to arrive at an accurate result you need to isolate the variables. The problem in analyzing the potential impact of school mask mandates is that it’s impossible to isolate the variables that could affect the results. I’ll illustrate the point by citing the current data available on South Florida’s School District COVID-19 dashboards. Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach County happen to be the three most populous in the state so they serve to provide a good sample size in addition to being the most relevant to those of us in South Florida. Here’s the breakout for the current school year.
- Broward: 271,000 students – 2,954 infections: 1.1%
- Miami Dade: 350,000 students – 3,227 infections: 0.9%
- Palm Beach County: 176,724 students – 5,588 infections: 3.2%
Three large South Florida school districts, all with school mask mandates, with three significantly differentrates infection. Why is Miami-Dade's rate of spread 22% lower than Broward’s? Why in the world is Palm Beach County’s rate of spread 2.9 times higher than Broward’s and 3.6 times as high as Miami-Dade? With such wide variance within otherwise reasonably adjusted controls, it’s clear other factors have come into play that have nothing specifically to do with the mask mandates. I’ve previously looked into the dynamics and reported on it as recently as October 21st. As I stated in that report: It just so happens that the COVID cases reported by school districts mirror the vaccination rates in each county. Dade, with the fewest infections has the highest vaccination rate with 93% of the county’s vaccine eligible population having been vaccinated. In Broward, the vaccination rate is 82% among the eligible and in Palm Beach County the vax rate stands at 75%. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that vaccination rates correspond with the rates of COVID-19 detected in each county’s school district, but it’s most plausible that there’s something to it. Using the information available in this analysis, the school districts would probably be better served by focusing on the vaccination rates of their faculty as opposed to the mandatory masking of students. Fast forward to today and the vax rates are ever so slightly higher in each county with the underlying facts remaining. With all of those facts in context it’s impossible to provide an empirical analysis of the impact of the mask mandates. And anyone who attempts to do so without having a clear explanation for the variance between school districts I’ve depicted is being intellectually dishonest.
To be clear, there is analysis floated which suggests mask mandates have had a profound impact on reducing the spread in school. For example, in early October Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried released a report which asserted school districts in Florida which imposed mask mandates saw 3.5 times fewer COVID-19 cases than those that did not. Here’s the rub with her analysis. For some reason that we can likely infer, she only chose to include the Alachua, Broward and Miami-Dade school districts. Additionally, only about half of the state's school districts have maintained COVID-19 dashboards this year so there’s no way for comprehensive statewide analysis anyway. What I will tell you, related to what I’ve already said, is that when I’ve evaluated the school districts who’ve maintained dashboards and retain the highest infection rates in the state, they’re among the least vaccinated counties in the state. That’s been consistent in my analysis since I began monitoring it about a month ago. And by the way, even then, it’s not as simple as saying it’s the vaccines alone driving the impact. One might imagine that counties with the highest vaccination rate might have people who have been a bit more careful generally.
None of this is to suggest that masks don’t have the potential to be effective, as I’ve covered throughout the pandemic masks are effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 to varying degrees based on mask type. What’s not been studied with mask efficacy however is how effective any of them really are in an environment in which students are shoulder to shoulder on school buses (often without keeping their masks on), eating and drinking throughout the day in close proximity to one another, and in classrooms together for close to an hour at a time. But here’s what has been quantifiable. The negative impact of the masks on education – the very reason children have been in school in the first place.
As I’ve routinely illustrated throughout this debate there are numerous studies posted to the National Insitute's of Health’s website which illustrate that having children masking at school can have negative mental and physical health impacts on children along with learning loss. And the learning loss with masks on has proven to be universal. Teachers teach less and students learn less at every grade level with masks on. The learning loss has been determined to average 7% to 10% as a result of the masks. That’s why it wasn’t an accident that the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Department of Education jointly came together to make a determination that struck a balance with all of these facts in hand. Schools could implement mask mandates, but parents could opt their children out. That’s pragmatism and that’s what the mandates never had – in addition to empirical evidence as to their overall effectiveness.