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NPHET: Yes, we’re considering facemasks for primary schools

“I feel a great disturbance in the force. As if a hundred thousand teachers all cried out in anguish at once, and were suddenly silenced:”

Nphet will consider making it mandatory for primary school children to wear face masks.

Deputy chief medical officer Ronan Glynn said the formal advice is that children under 13 can wear a mask and should not be discouraged from doing so.

“This topic will be coming up for discussion at Nphet this week. I’m not necessarily anticipating a change but our expert advisory group is looking at this issue again,” he said.

To be fair to NPHET, this measure, if introduced, would no doubt be intended to protect teachers, and primary students, and the families of primary students. It’s always important to acknowledge the good intentions behind an idea, even when it is a very bad idea.

And this, my friends, is a very, very, bad idea.

You’ll remember, if you think back about eight months, when the Government was avidly opposed to facemasks for adults, let alone children, what their arguments were. They told us, for the whole first four months of the pandemic, that facemasks might actually lead to an increase in infections, because people wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to fidget with their masks all the time. That was adults they were talking about, incidentally, not five and seven and nine year olds.

So what’s happened in the last eight months to make them think that nine year olds aren’t going to spend most of their eight or nine masked hours a day fidgeting with the thing and increasing their risk of infection? Have they ever actually met a child?

And what of the teachers? If this policy comes in, it’s a fairly straightforward bet that teachers will end up spending more of their time telling little Fabio and little Saoirse to pull that mask over their noses than they will telling them that eight times eight is sixty four. At least with online teaching, teachers can focus on actually teaching. Adding masks into a classroom is just adding distraction and displinary problems, with limited upsides in terms of preventing the spread of Covid 19.

If Government wants to prioritise the re-opening of education, which is, to be fair, a noble goal, then one wonders why they don’t just prioritise teachers, and students who are willing to take it, for the vaccine? There is not likely to be significant public pushback on that idea, since opinion polls show that re-opening schools is the public’s top priority.

There’s another argument against facemasks in primary schools also, as we noted last week, when Anthony Staines first floated this idea:

The greater risk is likely to be that young children use masks incorrectly. “They might be taking them off, manipulating them, and putting them back on their face,” says Dimitri Christakis at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. “It might actually be worse than wearing a mask.”

There are also concerns that face coverings will affect the way young children learn about language, emotions and social interactions. “When they’re learning sounds and words, and when their vocabulary is increasing, children and babies tend to focus [their attention] on the mouth,” says Lisa Scott at the University of Florida.

The WHO urges that decision-makers consider the potential impacts of mask-wearing on learning and social development even in children aged between 6 and 11. Scott recommends that carers and teachers of young children wear see-through masks where possible to minimise such effects.

That’s from a study conducted by the University of Florida, via the New Scientist magazine. The whole point of schools is for children to learn. People who study learning in children seem pretty convinced that facemasks actually inhibit their ability to learn.

When you add that to the Government’s own arguments against wearing them, from less than a year ago, this policy seems pretty ill-conceived.

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