We are in March 2022 and millions of children continue to have to wear the mask in schools despite the opposition (more or less cautious) of families, pediatricians and teachers. What is striking is that, while everyone agrees on the impact that the use of masks has had on children, no one can provide real data on the effectiveness of the measure. In other words, beyond common sense, does the mask really stop the incidence and transmission of the virus in schools?
Difficult terrain to investigate. When talking about the intersection between children’s health and education, conducting experiments is very delicate. You cannot randomly take a certain number of children, classes or schools and take off their masks to see what happens to them. In these environments, the obligation of the administration is to be as prudent as possible and this is precisely what has limited our knowledge about the effectiveness of the mask in this area.
LESS than 100 DAYS for HERD IMMUNITY: Towards a FUTURE without PANDEMIC
We had a (quasi) natural experiment at our fingertips. Fortunately, it was not necessary to resort to such practices. Looking at what was happening in schools was enough because the mandatory use of masks does not affect all children in school: it begins at the age of six. This has allowed a group of researchers from the Institut Catalá de la Salut (and from several national and international universities) to use the differences between the impact of COVID on early childhood education (3-5 years) and primary education (6-11) to verify the effectiveness of this intervention to mitigate the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in schools.
In total, the level of disease involvement has been analyzed in 599,314 children during the first quarter of the 2021-2022 academic year and, specifically, they have focused more attention on the differences between five-year-old children (who do not wear a mask) and those of six (which do use them).
No apparent effects. Interestingly, the researchers found that the incidence of SARS-COV-2 was significantly lower in children than in primary school for all epidemiological variables examined. In fact, while children between the ages of 3 and 4 had the lowest results, children aged 11 had the highest. In the case of children aged 5 and 6 years, although the incidence was lower in the youngest, in the rest of the variables the differences were not significant. In other words, no effects have been found that validate the effectiveness of masks in schools to curb the incidence or transmission of the virus.
An increasingly urgent de-escalation. Although with the crisis in Ukraine, public interest in de-escalation seems to have decreased and the pandemic has left the media debates, the truth is that in the coming weeks and months many decisions will have to be made about how it will be (until the situation changes) back to normal. In this sense, abandoning once and for all measures that have very little health effect (and important educational consequences) seems more urgent than ever. It is time for the Ministry and Communities to analyze the data and make the relevant decisions.
Image | Miguel Oses/GTRES
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism