Teachers and students should wear a mask to school in September, according to several Canadian experts, who add that the visor could be an alternative, especially for the little ones.
While several cities across the country are making masks mandatory in indoor public places to curb COVID-19, many experts believe that the measure should also apply in schools at the start of the school year.
«We shouldn’t send a contrary signal [à celui des autorités municipales]“Says virologist Hugues Loemba.
«The virus is not gone. We risk ending up like what we see in our neighbors to the South if we don’t take continuous measuresAdds the clinician-scientist at the Montfort Hospital in Ottawa.
It is true, he says, that younger students are at risk of self-infection by wearing a mask, because they will tend to play with their face covers and touch their nose and mouth.
For the little ones, the visor could be an alternative, according to him. “The visor does not stick to the nose or face, the child can breathe better“, He emphasizes.
Epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan of the University of Ottawa believes that wearing a mask or visor should be mandatory for all students 12 years of age and older. “For younger children, wearing a mask is probably not a solution“He says.
University of Toronto professor of medicine Anna Banerji also advocates the use of face coverings in the classroom for all children of “appropriate” age.
Same story from Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious disease specialist at the Toronto General Hospital. He adds that the visor may be an alternative option, because it is “easier to wear for long periods, is more comfortable and offers more possibilities for verbal and non-verbal communication».
For their part, Professor of Pediatrics Sarah Khan and her colleague in health sciences Dominik Mertz from McMaster University in Hamilton believe that wearing a mask in school can reassure parents and teachers.
The two experts believe, however, that it should only be mandatory if the local infection rate is high. “Otherwise, the potential benefits are rather low“, They say.
The two teachers also argue that masks should be provided by schools if they are mandatory, to ensure equity among students.
The back to Quebec plan does not provide for the compulsory wearing of the mask in class. In Ontario, according to three scenarios under study currently (full-time school, online courses only or hybrid approach), the face cover is optional, both for students and for teachers.
Experts from the Toronto Children’s Hospital who advised Doug Ford’s government for the start of the school year recently opposed to the compulsory wearing of a mask among students. Their arguments: they say that the benefits of the mask are unknown, and that an improperly worn face covering can lead to an increased risk of infection.
The hybrid model questioned
If the question of the compulsory wearing of a mask gives rise to differences of opinion among experts, everyone agrees that cleaning schools and washing hands is essential to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Specialists are also in favor of physical distance at school.
But the application of this concept in class is not unanimous. The hybrid model, which combines part-time classroom instruction with Internet lessons at home, is criticized by many Ontario parents, who wonder how they can work in such a context.
The objective of a return to school on a part-time basis would be to divide the groups of students, who would go to class on an alternating schedule, in order to facilitate distance.
However, Professor Banerji wonders if students, especially the youngest, will really be able to follow these instructions.
Instead, she said, the focus should be on protecting vulnerable students and their loved ones who are susceptible to infection.
Professors Khan and Mertz also believe that the hybrid model would create a lot of disruption for students and parents and that its benefits are “uncertain” in terms of public health.
This is without speaking, say Professors Khan and Mertz, of the fact that the students will probably mix with each other in their neighborhood, without much physical distance, before or after school hours.
For his part, virologist Hugues Loemba thinks that the approach should change according to the age of the students. He explains that physical distance is particularly important for the little ones, for whom it can be difficult to sit at a desk wearing a mask or a visor, which is less the case for the older ones.
In other words, he should not immediately reject the hybrid model, according to him, but rather be “malleable” and adjust the number of hours of classroom instruction, according to the infection rate at the start of the school year and age of students.
Professor Deonandan agrees that the youngest students stand to gain the most from smaller classes, on an alternating schedule if necessary.
«You can’t keep the little ones out of their social group for another school year, he says. We have to find ways to allow them to go back to school.»
In Ontario, the Ministry of Education and school boards must provide more details on their back-to-school plan in early August.
With the collaboration of Myriam Eddahia