Suggesting that the benefit of wearing face masks at school to limit the spread of COVID-19 is more based on hope than evidence is misinformation. Even when it comes from the BBC.


First published: January 2022.


Usual misinformation we are used to from the BBC now... there is actually a lot of very strong evidence that masks in schools reduce school outbreaks, infection in children, and in parents, alongside other measures. But don’t let facts get in the way of your preferred narrative.


Here is one study from Arizona published by the CDC that showed outbreaks in schools with mask mandates were 3.5 times lower than schools without:

Association Between K–12 School Mask...
This report describes Arizona school associated COVID-19 outbreaks higher in schools without mask requirements than in schools with mask requirements.

Another US study showing counties with mask mandates in schools had as much as 2 times lower rises in paediatrics infection after schools re-opened:

Pediatric COVID-19 Cases in Counties...
This report describes pediatric COVID-19 cases in counties with and without school mask requirements.

Another study published in Science showing multilayered measures (of which mask-wearing was one of the most common ones) reduced risk in parents of children to baseline:

Household COVID-19 risk and in-person schooling
COVID-19 rates were elevated for those connected to schools that implemented few or no mitigation measures.

And real-world data?

France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria have all had mask mandates in primary and secondary schools (with massive surges when rules were relaxed). France has had far less educational disruption than us for example. They provide medical-grade masks to children.

Prior to the vaccination of children for the very short period England had masks in secondaries, infection rates in secondary school age children dipped below those in primary school age children for the first time, as per ONS data.

In terms of impact on children

England alone has had comparable (only slightly lower) hospitalisation rates for children with COVID-19 compared to 10 European countries combined, for the same period outlined here:

Eurosurveillance | COVID-19 trends and severity among symptomatic children aged 0–17 years in 10 European Union countries, 3 August 2020 to 3 October 2021
We estimated risks of severe outcomes in 820,404 symptomatic paediatric COVID-19 cases reported by 10 European Union countries between August 2020 and October 2021. Case and hospitalisation rates rose as transmission increased but severe outcomes were rare: 9,611 (1.2%) were hospitalised, 640 (0.08%…
  • 9,000 children had been orphaned in England and Wales by the end of March 2021 – but no one talks about the impact of early life bereavement on children.
  • 77,000 children are estimated to have long COVID – it doubled over 4 months due to the mass infection in children.
  • 14,000 children have had symptoms for more than a year.

Name any other childhood illness that has had this level of impact.

And loads of people in the media, and even scientists, say the impact on kids is minimal in terms of deaths. But we should not have to compare with adults (we don’t need 100,000 children to die before we consider this as a serious issue). Let’s compare with childhood illnesses.

COVID-19 caused (yes, caused as per ONS death certification) 82 deaths in children by December 2021. The number of deaths just this year is over 2 times the umber of deaths caused by flu annually, prior to the pandemic. Far more than chickenpox, far more than measles or any childhood illness.

So sure, make vague statements about the negative impact of masks on ‘educational disruption’ when it is mass-infection that has led mass-educational disruption and mass-impact to children’s physical and mental health.

And masks prevent disruption.

We had over 200,000 children absent for COVID-19 related reasons with many ill prior to the end of the last term. If that isn’t educational disruption, what is? Teaching is one of the occupations that has the highest rates of long COVID after health and care workers.

By contrast, there is little evidence of harm in the millions of children who have been wearing masks to school for years in some countries, or at least when levels of transmission have been very high.

I agree the equation may be different for children with hearing disabilities, but there are solutions (transparent masks), and exemptions exactly for these reasons.

As per the last ONS publication, on New Year’s eve, 1 in 15 primary school age children were infected with SARS-CoV-2 – higher than any other age group, and 1 in 20 secondary school age children. These are the infection rates children may go back to school with.

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What’s next?

What are the plans for preventing superspreading? Not only have we no masks, no supplemental ventilation, but parents are also mandated to send children to schools in England even if they have the infection, and there is no contact tracing in schools.

Apparently sharing the air with a COVID case for 7 hours a day in a crowded room with no social distancing, ventilation and masks doesn’t make you a contact – so, infected and infectious children are mandated to remain in classrooms which fuels infection.

We are the exception in our policies on school, and lack of vaccination offered to all children. Result: exceptionally high rates of hospitalisations, avoidable deaths, and rapid rises in chronic illnesses we don’t know how to treat, and children orphaned.

Clinically vulnerable households have little choice but to accept members in the household getting very ill or having to deregister and homeschool. This should not be the choice parents and children have.

Much of this impact on children is on disinformation groups like UsForThem widely platformed in the media, with preferential access to MPs, JCVI (promoting infection in children as advantageous) and scientists that have promoted the pseudoscience platformed in the BBC article.

PMP Magazine



— AUTHOR —

Dr Deepti Gurdasani, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology, Statistical Genetics, Machine Learning, Queen Mary University of London.


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Sources
  • Text: This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 3 January 2022 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.
  • Cover: Adobe Stock/Rawpixel.com.