Should children in England wear face masks in schools? | Coronavirus
Hours after the Scottish government gave secondary schools ‘compulsory’ advice that pupils should wear a face covering in the hallways, common areas and school buses, Boris Johnson seemed to give at least partially calls from teachers and parents on face masks, making their use compulsory in secondary schools located in parts of England with stricter coronavirus restrictions.
It also gave other parts of England the discretion to make their own rules, drop advice against using face coverings. But what are the arguments for and against making them compulsory in all English secondary schools?
The case of masks in high schools
Expert Advice: This weekend, the World Health Organization and Unicef approved for the first time the use of masks in children aged 12 and over, especially when the distance of 1 meter cannot be guaranteed and transmission is widespread in the area.
Scientific evidence: Recent research suggests teenagers transmit the virus more than young children – but less than adults. “We now have evidence that adolescents and secondary school students transmit viruses slightly less than adults, but significantly more than primary school children. So there is an argument for them to wear them,” said Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London.
Behavioral impact: Wearing a mask is something you need to actively do, and it reminds you that a crisis is happening, said Daniel Read, professor of behavioral science at Warwick Business School. “It gives a sense, I think, of responsibility, not just to the students but to everyone, that they are members of society and doing something for the greater good.” Over-11s in England are already expected to wear masks in shops, on public transport and in other enclosed spaces.
The lawsuit against masks in high schools
Expert Advice: Professor Russell Viner, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said there were concerns about young children wearing face coverings. “There are a lot of concerns about mask-wearing for children, especially younger ones. Because they are touching their face, they are constantly worried about the mask, it might actually spread the virus further,” he said.
Michie said, “What’s really important is that high school students learn how to put on and take off the masks, and not fiddle with them, not share them with each other.” She added that schools need to provide easy access to hot water and sanitizer, and teach students why regular hand hygiene is crucial.
Scientific proof: Alok Sharma, the business secretary, on Tuesday pointed to statistics from Public Health England showing that in June there were on average around one million children in pre-school and primary settings and just 70 incidents of infection. “The chances of getting infected at school are incredibly low,” he told Sky News. “In fact, the risk of being infected is higher outside of a school setting.”
Behavioral impact: Before changing course on Tuesday, No 10 said he was not changing his guidance on masks in schools in England, in part because ‘face coverings could hinder communication between teachers and pupils’ .