A member of the class of 2020 wears a mask before her drive-through graduation ceremony at Musselman High School in Inwood, W.V., last May as schools around the world founds ways to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
A research team studying live streams of high school graduations from last July found that most high schoolers are willing to wear masks.
Students just need more education on how to wear them properly, as well as information about the importance of being consistent, researchers said.
"The key to preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus relies on scientifically backed best practices and buy-in from the public to engage in these safety protocols," said study author Anna Mueller said in a news release.
"As schools navigate how to keep students safe, young people's participation in these protocols is vital. And the good news is that teens seem willing," said Mueller, an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University.
The team studied mask-wearing by students at five in-person, live-streamed high school graduations from one public school district in early July.
This gave them a view of more than 1,100 students' mask-wearing and social-distancing behavior.
Researchers documented those behaviors as students crossed the graduation stage and posed for photos with their school principal.
The district provided students with free masks that had the school's logo. They seated the students in socially distanced chairs and held each ceremony outdoors with safety protocols approved by the public health department.
The community where the school district is located had low rates of community mask-wearing. It also had no local or state mask mandate.
The study found that nearly 70% of students wore their masks properly while receiving their diploma, while 10% wore no mask and 20% wore masks that kept slipping.
Mask-wearing varied significantly across schools during the ceremonies, researchers said. All schools struggled with social distancing, except when students were in their socially distant chairs.
"We did find evidence that adults can influence youth's mask-wearing behaviors," said study co-author Sarah Diefendorf.
"This was particularly evident during the graduation pictures. When teens approached their principal for their picture, all but one student took off their mask after an adult suggested they could. Most of these students [80%] were wearing their mask properly just seconds before," said Diefendorf, a sociologist from the University of Utah.
Staff behavior mattered. Students had greater adherence to school COVID-19 guidelines in schools with adults who consistently wore their own masks or who encouraged students to keep their masks on.
At all five schools, students expressed concern for their communities amid the pandemic.
The schools that had higher rates of mask wearing also talked about broader social justice issues, including the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.
"Students clearly cared about the health and well-being of their peers and their broader community, suggesting that they can be important allies in keeping schools open and as safe as possible given our circumstances," Mueller said.
"But youth also learn from adults, in schools and out. So, it's crucial that we make sure that parents, teachers, and other community adults get the message that masks and social-distancing are crucial to getting life back to normal and keeping schools open," Mueller said.
The study was published this week in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
The World Health Organization offers a report on COVID-19 transmission in schools.
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