Face masks in schools work, but what about those students who can not or will not comply?

COVID remains asymptomatic or a mild disease in the vast majority of children. But rarely do children get sick enough to end up in the hospital. Masks are likely to help reduce this number further.

In Scottish children, there are around 10-15,000 infections every week, and every week some children are hospitalized with COVID, but the number is still far less than those hospitalized with other common respiratory viruses (eg RSV). There have been no deaths in children as a result of COVID in Scotland since Delta arrived.

Mandate masks in this age group can have challenges. Mandates usually come with sanctions for those who do not comply. That is what worries us the most.

Masking of school children led to a 3.5-fold reduction in outbreaks in the United States.

Masking of school children led to a 3.5-fold reduction in outbreaks in the United States.Credit:AP

We care about the children who can not or will not put on a mask – stressed for them, their parents and their teachers. These children need to be carefully considered. Presumably children with disabilities or behavioral difficulties will be excluded, but how will this be decided and adopted?

We hope that this will not mean school exclusion for those with behavioral difficulties who cannot or cannot comply, as this would mean that the very young people who really need to be in the classroom would be excluded and will lead to further disadvantages. We are also concerned that teachers need to enforce this, as it is now a mandate.

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It is important that we do everything we can to keep children in the classroom as much as possible and do as much as possible to help children, teachers, parents and the wider community in safety.

We expect these limitations to be eased as we get through the next few months and children will be able to enjoy being with friends and teachers for the rest of the year. And we expect this age group to be maskless next year as more and more adults and possibly children are vaccinated.

Professor Fiona Russell is a pediatrician and epidemiologist and infectious diseases in the groups at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. Dr Sarah McNab is a pediatrician and director of general medicine at Royal Children’s Hospital.

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