As kids start school this week, concern is rising over children’s role in spreading the virus. This means it’s vital to think about a safe return-to-school policy – and, as part of that, decide who should be wearing masks.
In their latest guidelines, World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) say little ones under the age of five are not suited to face coverings. However, children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults.
For those in between, the two world bodies suggest masks should be worn under certain conditions, such as living in areas with widespread transmission and if they know how to use one effectively.
The question of schools reopening has caused great debate worldwide, and WHO says this decision can only be made in the broader context of what’s happening in the community and the rate of transmission of the virus. Each country to their own, in other words.
Swiss authorities decided mask wearing should be compulsory for teenagers because they are considered more likely to spread the virus than primary pupils under 12, SwissInfo reported.
The French took a slightly different approach and announced it expected pupils aged 11-15 to wear face masks, according to the BBC.
Research suggests age is an important consideration. Although children of all ages can be infected and potentially transmit the virus, “there appears to be a difference in transmission by age group, with younger children able to transmit less than teenagers”, WHO technical lead for Covid-19, Dr Maria van Kerkhove said at a press briefing.
A study of mask wearing during seasonal influenza outbreaks in Japan noted that the use of masks was more effective in higher school grades (children aged nine to 12, in grades 4 to 6) than lower grades (old children aged six to nine, in grades 1 to 3), WHO/UNICEF report said.
Another study suggested children between five and 11 years old were significantly less protected by mask-wearing compared to adults, possibly because of the inferior fit of the mask.
Mask wearing is not considered an alternative to physical distancing and hand washing – it should be used in combination with these measures, WHO said.
Watch the full briefing below: