Is it too risky with 300,000 new corona infections?

High rates of infection in children

Is the end of compulsory masks in schools too risky?

Wearing a face mask to school has become a part of everyday life. Now it should change, depending on the federal state at a different time. Many federal states have promised to abolish the obligation to wear them by April at the latest. In some places the norm has already been relaxed, especially in primary and special schools. In Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, there should be an end to masks in the upper classes from the beginning of April, and Lower Saxony also wants to follow suit after the Easter holidays.

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But is this a good idea? After all, the virus has never circulated so strongly in Germany. This Thursday alone, over 300,000 new corona infections were reported to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). At the moment, more people are infected with Corona than ever. According to experts, the numbers could only gradually decline around Easter.

According to epidemiologist Timo Ulrichs of Akkon Hochschule Berlin, two opposite effects could come into play: in spring, the number of newly infected naturally decreases, even in schools. At the same time, a consistently high level of viruses circulating in the general population could mean that numbers remain high during the spring and summer.

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“One can therefore dare to revoke the mask requirement in schools if the general trend clearly points to the downside, otherwise this revocation would tend to stabilize the very high number of newly infected people,” Ulrichs told RND. The timing of the lifting could be decisive: “April would still be very early, May would be better, because then it will be easier to assess the progress of the general situation.” E: According to the scientist, it would be much easier to revoke the obligation of the mask in schools if it were not at the same time all other measures would have been abolished.

Virologist: “Every avoided contagion is a gain”

German virologist Isabella Eckerle, who is looking for Corona at the Geneva University Hospital, has already expressed criticism in mid-March. In her opinion, public interiors should keep the mask requirement. This also includes educational institutions. “Any avoided infection is good for the health system and against the virus,” said the corona expert in his Twitter account clear. Masks are especially effective when everyone is wearing them.

“Many without and few with (including FFP2) is not a sensible protection against infection,” Eckerle explained. “It is incomprehensible why, given the current incidences and in anticipation of another variant, something as effective as masks is avoided.” You certainly won’t wear a mask forever because every pandemic ends. It is clear, however, that now is not the time to “stop such good and simple protection”.

“The end of the mask requirement is particularly problematic if, at the same time, mandatory tests in schools in some federal states are severely restricted or terminated,” says the president of the German Teachers’ Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger. The end of precautionary measures too quickly also does not take into account children with previous illnesses and families with people at risk in the home or in the immediate vicinity, he told the RND.

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Professional societies recommend masks in schools

Medical protection of the mouth and nose should be used from a high level of infection.

From guideline S3

The virus is definitely not stopping in schools right now. 426 school breaks were recorded nationwide from mid-February to mid-March. In its weekly report of March 17, the RKI predicts that more outbreaks will be reported later in the past two weeks. Children aged six to ten are particularly affected. This may have something to do with the lowest vaccination rate in this age group. But also with the fact that school-age children don’t always wear masks correctly, as health authorities claim.

So the masks don’t protect children and young people in everyday school life anyway? The so-called S3 guideline with “Measures to Prevent and Control Sars-CoV-2 Transmission in Schools” comes to a different conclusion: the benefits of wearing a face mask outweigh the disadvantages – for students, teachers and school staff. “Medical protection of the mouth and nose should be used when the infection is high,” says the evidence-based recommendation, in which some 40 specialist societies are involved – such as the German Society of Epidemiology (DGEpi), the German Society for Public Health (DGPH) and the German Society for Child and Adolescent Medicine (DGKJ).

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Combined with other measures such as alternating classrooms and room ventilation, wearing masks reduces the risk of infection in schools. There may be temporary and local exceptions to the measure for elementary school students – but only “in case of moderate regional and national infection rates in the population and in the school”. If the recommendation goes, primary school students should continue to wear masks as well, as the number of infections is at record highs across Germany.

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