Sunday, April 11, 2021

Ottawa-Carleton board to debate mandatory masks for younger kids

OTTAWA - May 6, 2020 - Ottawa Carleton District School Board building on Greenback Road in Ottawa Tuesday.   Tony Caldwell

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Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustee Lyra Evans. Patrick Doyle/Postmedia

Even if the smallest kids don’t always keep their masks on because they don’t understand the importance, “I think we should try because, even if it isn’t perfect, like a 60 per cent coverage is better than zero,” Evans said.

“I think with all the bigger kids wearing masks and with all the teachers wearing masks, it’s going to be something that they understand they have to do.”

In the past week, several other Ontario school boards have voted to extend mandatory masking to include younger students. Masks will be required starting in kindergarten at Toronto’s public and Catholic boards and at public schools in Guelphand Waterloo.

The issue is controversial. There is no consensus among medical experts about the benefits of masks compared to the risks, especially among young children who may spread infection by not wearing or disposing of masks properly.

A report last month by experts at SickKids hospital, which the government relied upon for guidance on reopening schools, said it was impractical to expect most children and youth to wear masks properly for the entire school day. The report warned of negative consequences, from the difficulty of properly storing masks to the possibility they would “interfere with the therapeutic learning environment and increase inattention or distraction in children and youth, particularly for those who may already struggle with attention, such as those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or other developmental disorders.”

The government opted for a requirement that students in Grade 4 to 12 wear masks indoors. Education Minister Stephen Lecce has often pointed to that masking requirement as an important element in a school-reopening plan he says is the best in Canada.

Those who want all children to be required to wear masks at school, including unions representing Ontario education workers, argue they provide another layer of protection, especially since distancing in elementary schools will not meet the prescribed standard of two metres.

Wearing a non-medical cloth mask primarily protects not the wearer, but others around them from breathing in virus droplets, public health officials say.

Other experts warn that masks don’t provide a magic solution. They are on the lowest rung of the ladder of infection-control practices that will help prevent the spread of the virus causing COVID-19.

This illustration, from a report on school reopenings by SickKids hospital, shows the relative importance of various infection control measures. Personal protective equipment is at the bottom.

“Mandatory masking distracts from more effective strategies,” Dr. Nisha Thampi, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at CHEO, wrote on Twitter on Aug. 21. More effective strategies include screening, smaller classes, taking children outside to learn, physical distancing and hand washing.

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