A growing number of doctors are calling for face masks to be brought back to classrooms — this time to help stop the spread of flu.
Pediatric hospitals are being rocked by an early and aggressive flu season, at the same time as a wave of RSV — a virus that can be deadly to young children.
Three states are at virtually full capacity and almost eight in 10 pediatric beds are occupied nationally.
Experts say measures brought in to stop the spread of Covid — like lockdowns and masks — prevented children catching germs that help build their immunity to seasonal viruses.
Yet Dr William Schaffner, a top infectious diseases expert at the influential Vanderbilt University, claimed Wednesday that it was ‘reasonable’ to start masking up in schools again amid the wave of respiratory illness.
Meanwhile Dr Mandie Svatek, a pediatrician at the University of Texas said last week it was ‘definitely’ the moment to ‘consider again’ coverings in the classroom.
Dr Mark Hicar, a pediatric infectious disease expert at the University of Buffalo in New York, also said it would be ‘perfectly reasonable’ to mask-up.
But some experts have reservations about kids donning face coverings again because evidence suggests they stunted babies’ development.
It is also unclear how well masks work at curbing the spread of viruses in schools, with conflicting study findings.
In Alabama 13 schools have switched to remote learning for a week due to respiratory viruses like flu and RSV causing mass absences, while in Kentucky at least 11 school systems closed Monday due to flu.
Some doctors are calling for face masks to return in schools, despite evidence that they harmed children’s schooling and development
Dr William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University, said yesterday it was ‘reasonable’ to start masking up in schools again. While Dr Mandie Svatek, a pediatrics expert at Texas University, last week alleged it was ‘definitely’ the moment to ‘consider’ coverings in classrooms again
Calling for face masks to return to the classroom, Dr Schaffner told Yahoo Life it was ‘quite a reasonable idea’ for the coverings to return in schools.
‘We have learned through Covid that masks do indeed provide an additional layer of protection,’ he said.
‘We have been anticipating that people of all ages that are interested in protecting themselves will do this.’
Dr Mark Hicar, a pediatric infectious disease expert at the University of Buffalo in New York, also told the publication it would be ‘perfectly reasonable’ to mask up.
Lockdowns and mask mandates stunted babies’ development
Lockdowns and mask mandates have stunted babies’ development, a study suggested last month.
Youngsters born during the pandemic were less likely to have said their first words by their first birthday compared to babies born pre-Covid.
They were also less likely to be able to wave ‘bye’ or point at objects, researchers in Ireland found.
The team say face masks limited children’s ability to read facial expressions or see people’s mouths move — a crucial part of learning to speak.
Bans on visiting grandparents and relatives were also blamed for depriving them of vital socializing time.
It is just the latest piece of evidence to highlight the devastating toll of pandemic restrictions on the health of America’s youth.
He added, however: ‘These infections are hard to avoid when spreading throughout the community and perfect mask use by a child can be a tough ask.’
Dr Svatek also told KSAT last week that the time may have come to bring masks back in schools.
‘Face masks for children two years and older can definitely be considered during this time where viruses such as the flu are predominant in our area,’ she said.
‘You may also consider mask wearing for children when Covid infection rates are high, for those children that have a weakened immune system and to protect other family members that may be at risk in the household as noted above.’
Their calls come despite an ever-growing body of evidence that face masks will have only a minimal benefit in the school environment.
Supporters say they help stop the spread of germs by catching droplets expelled when children cough and sneeze.
But many experts say their impact in schools was ‘minimal’ against Covid.
This may have been driven by difficulties getting children to wear masks, not wearing them properly or socializing outside the school gates.
Dr Rochelle Walensky, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Development (CDC), had claimed previously that they reduce the risk of an outbreak in a school three-fold last year. But her allegation was quickly shot down by many experts.
There is also mounting evidence over the detrimental impact they have on youngsters education.
Fears have also been raised that masks may have made it harder for children to socialize, by impeding their ability to recognize faces.
During the Covid pandemic, everyone over the age of two years was asked to wear a face mask on public transport, public areas and shops.
Some 18 states and the District of Columbia also extended this requirement to their classrooms.
For the most part, however, this was abandoned before the end of May this year with masks becoming optional.
No schools have brought back the mandates this year, although some in Massachusetts have been forced to say they are not considering the move.