Health experts update advice to NPHET about mask-wearing and children due to British Covid-19 variant

Conor Ganly

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Conor Ganly

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news@leinsterexpress.ie

Covid-19 Covid-19 Covid-19

Face masks have not been mandatory for children

Health experts advising the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) on the Covid-19 pandemic have issued new advice on the wearing of masks by children in schools but it does not believe there is no enough of an infection risk to justify new rules. 

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) says it has today March 4 published its advice to the National Public Health NPHET on reducing the minimum age of mask-wearing.

HIQA’s says its advice was informed by the latest international practice as well as input from its COVID-19 Expert Advisory Group.

The Authority says measures previously employed in schools have successfully mitigated the spread of SARS-CoV-2. However, it adds that there is growing uncertainty regarding the impact of the increased transmissibility of the B.1.1.7 (British) variant and whether existing measures will be sufficient.

HIQA says it has found that the evidence points towards face mask use in the community reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2. However, it says that in young children, the benefit of face mask use is likely small and may be affected by their reduced ability to comply with face mask-wearing.

The authority says any decision to require or recommend face mask use in children must be balanced against perceived disadvantages associated with their use, for example, potential effects on communication.

Dr Máirín Ryan is HIQA’s Deputy CEO and Director of Health Technology Assessment.

“It is important that schools remain open to support children’s educational, social, and emotional development. The best way to ensure that schools remain a low-risk environment is by the continued use of a combination of public health measures, such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, increased ventilation and by not attending when you have symptoms of COVID-19.

“These measures should not be limited to the classroom; high levels of adherence are necessary when students are moving between classrooms, when on school grounds and when travelling to and from school. We recommended that a clear communications strategy on methods to reduce transmission be deployed to help students, families and teachers stay safe,” she said.

A statement said HIQA’s COVID-19 Expert Advisory Group has therefore advised no change to the current minimum age. It added that this advice will be updated and reviewed as new evidence becomes available.

You can find these documents here.

NPHET asked HIQA to provide advice on the following policy question:"Should the minimum age for the application of mask wearing requirements and recommendations be reduced?"

Current guidance states that children over the age of 13 years, and those in secondary school, should follow adult guidance for face mask usage. Younger children can choose to wear a mask or be requested to do so by a healthcare professional.

Information and guidance on mask usage in Ireland can be found here. Advice on how to effectively wear a face covering can be found here.

HIQA provides evidence-based advice to NPHET to inform public health policy, advice and practice in the context of COVID-19.

HIQA says its advice is informed by research evidence developed by HIQA’s COVID-19 Evidence Synthesis Team.

This advice to NPHET is developed with expert input from HIQA’s COVID-19 Expert Advisory Group. HIQA’s COVID-19 Expert Advisory Group is a multidisciplinary group, comprising nominated representatives from the relevant public health and clinical specialties, methodology experts, and public representation.

The topics HIQA researches are outlined and prioritised by NPHET to ensure rapid access to the best available evidence relevant to the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak.