Children and face masks

 

Sir, – Children are an at-risk population and can spread the Covid-19 virus even if they themselves are not sick. Even though children are less likely to get sick from the virus, they are definitely not immune. The evidence clearly shows that all people, regardless of age, can get infected by Sars-CoV-2. A recent study from South Korea found that while young children seem less able to spread the disease compared to adults, those from 10 to 19 years spread the virus at least as much as the adults do. There are notable reports of Kawasaki-like disease and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.

There has been a recent surge in the number of young children in Ireland contracting the coronavirus. Newly released figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre show that 10 more children under the age of four were diagnosed with Covid-19 over a three-day period last week. It brings the total number of children aged four or under in Ireland to be diagnosed with the virus to 227. Over the same three-day period last week, 14 children aged between five and 14 also tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in that age bracket to 395 since the outbreak began. In this demographic, two patients had been admitted to an intensive-care unit, although thankfully there had been no fatal cases. Furthermore the outbreak in one of the Meath creches occurred despite it being split into pods.

Implementing face masks for secondary schools is necessary, but at the same time children in primary schools and creches should also be following this measure. In addition to hand hygiene and safe distancing, preparing the child to use face masks is strongly needed. It is also important that the use of masks by children is preceded by parental guidance and school lessons on this issue and other hygiene topics with the main aim of obtaining child cooperation.

The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) strongly endorses the use of safe and effective infection-control procedures to protect children, which includes the use of a cloth face covering. Children of two years of age and older have demonstrated that they can be taught basic infection control skills (such as hand washing and physical distancing), including wearing a cloth face covering. Hence, it recommends universal use of cloth face coverings by children two and older when they are at schools, in childcare, and other group settings. The AAP has declared that cloth face coverings can be safely worn by all children two and older, including the vast majority of children with underlying health conditions, with rare exceptions.

North Rhine-Westphalia became the first federal state in Germany to introduce compulsory use of face masks in classrooms with the restart of schools after summer holidays. All pupils from year five onwards had to wear face masks on all school premises and also during lessons.

As a parent, I feel even a small risk is a risk and not worthy of taking until all known precautionary measures are in place. Face masks have proven their worth and should be implemented in primary schools and creches as a mandatory measure at least in the early stage of reopening. Other beneficial measures to consider include outdoor teaching settings and lunch breaks, alternative day teaching, and once a week teaching with remote learning, etc. – Yours, etc,

Dr AAISHA KHAN,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.