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Colorado Data Shows Vaccines And Masks Are Helping Protect Schoolchildren From COVID

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Health officials in Colorado say there's now clear evidence that vaccinations and masks help to protect kids from COVID-19. Colorado Public Radio's John Daley reports.

JOHN DALEY, BYLINE: The state Health Department compared coronavirus case rates with vaccination rates among children aged 12 to 17. They became eligible for the vaccine in May. Researchers charted the comparisons for the state's 10 largest counties. They found infection rates were more than twice as high or more in the counties where vaccination rates were lowest compared to the counties in the group where the vaccination rates were highest. State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy.

RACHEL HERLIHY: We see this clear correlation between high vaccination rates and low case rates. And that's true not just for the adult population, but also holding true for our children.

DALEY: The state health department also looked at the impact of masks in schools. There's no statewide mask mandate, but nearly 80% of K-12 students in Colorado are in districts requiring masks. Researchers compared coronavirus case rates for 48 Colorado school districts that started school in mid-August. Herlihy says they clearly grew higher in districts not requiring masks versus districts that did, showing...

HERLIHY: ...A clear impact that masks are having in decreasing transmission in our school settings.

DALEY: Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also released a report from Arizona. It found schools in two of the state's most populous counties were 3 1/2 times more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks if they did not have a mask requirement at the start of school compared with schools that required universal masking on Day 1.

Overall, Colorado is in a fifth wave of the pandemic. Many hospitals are near capacity here and are having difficulty with staffing. Right now, 900 Coloradans are hospitalized for COVID-19. Another state health leader, Incident Commander Scott Bookman, characterizes those numbers as still incredibly high.

SCOTT BOOKMAN: Eighty percent of those who are currently hospitalized are unvaccinated.

DALEY: Nearly 60% of the state's population is now fully vaccinated. That puts Colorado in the top third of states, and health officials say that has so far helped Colorado avoid the worst of the dire hospital conditions seen in other states. But they caution winter is on the way and the situation is still precarious.

For NPR news, I'm John Daley in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.