A new study on COVID-19 transmission done by researchers at Georgia Tech and North Carolina State University paints a dire picture for students who go to school unmasked and unvaccinated.

Model findings from the study found that in a 500-student school, an additional 70% of elementary school students may be infected with COVID-19 within three months without masks and 40% of elementary school students may be infected within three months with masks. Vaccinated middle and high schools face a 40% risk of infection without masks.

“Almost 160,000 new COVID cases have been reported on August 19. So COVID is not over as much as we would like it to be,” Pinar Keskinocak, chair and professor in the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Georgia Tech, told Yahoo Finance. She joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss her recent research on the impacts of masking and vaccines on the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Keskinocak said that even though nearly 60% of Americans have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination, those under 12 are at particular risk of contracting the Delta variant.

“Delta variant is very contagious. Unfortunately, younger people are getting infected at a higher rate than what we have observed before, and they’re also getting sicker compared to what we have observed during the earlier months of the pandemic COVID-related hospitalizations are on the rise for all age groups and, unfortunately going up at a high rate for the zero to 17 age group, for kids,” Keskinocak said.

“Younger children are not eligible for the vaccine yet. And even if you look at the 12 to 17 age group, the vaccination rates are still relatively low. So in Georgia, my home state, we have about 20% of the 11- to 13-year-old children who are vaccinated. These are middle schoolers. But this is definitely not enough to give us the kind of protection that we would need … we might be able to open the schools safely and give that in-person experience to our children, but we have to do it right,” she added.

Student back to school wearing mask covid 19

Student back to school wearing mask covid 19

When it comes to the battles between school boards and state governments in Texas and Florida surrounding vaccinations and mask mandates, the Georgia Tech professor believes that officials should leave medical decisions to the experts.

“I think it’s really important for any decision-maker to base their decisions on data, information, and advice coming from the experts. None of us would attempt brain surgery unless we were trained as brain surgeons. When it comes to some of these public health decisions, it’s not that dissimilar. These are very, very complex decisions, and they need to be made very carefully,” said Keskinocak.

“Now the CDC recommends that schools implement layered prevention strategies, including universal masking for staff, teachers, visitors, and of course, all the student’s ages two years and older, regardless of their vaccination status. So I think this recommendation is very clear, and I would hope that most of the school systems and decision-makers would actually follow this recommendation,” she said.

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.

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