Prof O’Neill believes that if mask wearing in primary schools was even “30pc effective” then it would have a “significant impact”
Primary school students are not mandated to wear masks upon return to school this year with officials viewing it as too challenging for young children and a potential source of stress for pupils.
Currently, secondary school students must wear masks at school when indoors.
Prof O’Neill believes that if mask wearing in primary schools was even “30pc effective” then it would have a “significant impact” on breaking the chains of transmission in the younger age groups.
He acknowledged the disease tends to be very mild when evidenced in this age group but said that the fear was they could bring it home to parents or elderly grandparents.
“If it was 30pc effective in primary school kids you would do it, as that would have a significant impact,” Prof O’Neill told Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ.
“It’s a surprise to me [that they aren’t being worn], but it’s tricky for teachers, no more than parents, to impose it on that age group. But still, I would say please wear masks in primary schools because they know that masks work,” Prof O’Neill said.
Many jurisdictions such as the US do require young children to wear masks in the classroom and at home, the Independent Scientific Advisory Group (ISAG) are calling for the same.
The group said “outdated” public health advice informed the decision for schoolchildren not to wear masks and they said it was leaving schools at risk of major outbreaks.
“In our judgment, there is a sizable risk of major outbreaks of Covid-19 associated with school reopening, and associated illness and deaths, affecting staff, children and their families, a letter to Minister Foley from the ISAG said.
The ISAG also called for officials to ensure safe air-quality standards in schools by installing carbon dioxide monitors permanently in each classroom and developing protocols for safe air-quality maintenance.