UK: We Are Changing Our School Masking Guidance, and Recommending...Even Fewer Masks

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Posted: Aug 30, 2021 10:35 AM
UK: We Are Changing Our School Masking Guidance, and Recommending...Even Fewer Masks

Source: Leon Neal/Pool via AP

Regular readers are already aware that multiple foreign governments are not requiring masking in classrooms, based on their data and experience. We recently quoted a New York Magazine deep dive into the evidence on this issue, which has become controversial and political in the United States. Not so much elsewhere: "Many of America’s peer nations around the world — including the U.K., Ireland, all of Scandinavia, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy — have exempted kids, with varying age cutoffs, from wearing masks in classrooms," the piece reported, alongside this key piece of information: "Conspicuously, there’s no evidence of more outbreaks in schools in those countries relative to schools in the U.S., where the solid majority of kids wore masks for an entire academic year." As we've also pointed out, the European Union's CDC recommends no masking in schools for kids under the age of 12. Having weathered a difficult Delta variant surge, the UK government recently shifted its guidance on this subject – further away from in-school masking: 


They used to recommend mandating masks in communal areas like hallways for some students, but rarely in classrooms, and imposed certain restrictions on older students and faculty. That guidance has now been jettisoned. Children and adults are not advised to wear face coverings anywhere inside school buildings. The Brits track their data extremely carefully, and in some ways have superior COVID data than we do in the United States. It's that data that convinced them that this was the appropriate course of action. The New York Times, to its credit, covered this story late last week: 

From late spring into early summer, Britain’s elementary and secondary schools were open during an alarming wave of Delta infections. And they handled the Delta spike in ways that might surprise American parents, educators and lawmakers: Masking was a limited part of the strategy. In fact, for the most part, elementary school students and their teachers did not wear them in classrooms at all. Instead, the British government focused on other safety measures, widespread quarantining and rapid testing. “The U.K. has always, from the beginning, emphasized they do not see a place for face coverings for children if it’s avoidable,” said Dr. Shamez Ladhani, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at St. George’s Hospital in London and an author of several government studies on the virus and schools. The potential harms exceed the potential benefits, he said, because seeing faces is “important for the social development and interaction between people.”

In the US, "The Science" is said to show clear benefits for mask-wearing among students (this is not established by data), while downsides and harms are downplayed or dismissed almost entirely. In the United Kingdom, their experts and government acknowledge that the supposed benefits are "potential," while recognizing trade-offs. The result? A move against school masking. What has the evidence shown

Under the government guidelines, masks in classrooms were required only for discrete periods in secondary schools, the equivalent of middle and high school, and were never required for elementary-age children... Throughout the pandemic, government studies showed that infection rates in schools did not exceed those in the community at large, Dr. Ladhani said. In schools that experienced multiple virus cases, he added, there were often “multiple introductions” — meaning that infections were likely acquired outside the building... And there was less partisan divide; both the Conservative and Labour Parties have generally believed that face coverings hinder young children’s ability to communicate, socialize and learn...Further reassuring evidence comes from testing antibodies of school staff members; positivity rates were the same or lower than adults in the community, suggesting that schools were not “hubs of infection,” according to Public Health England, a government agency. Today, after long periods of shuttered classrooms, there is now a broad consensus in Britain that policies that keep children out of school are “extremely harmful in the long term,” Dr. Munro said.

That last finding was crystal clear last year, too, yet millions of American children were locked out of in-person learning – a policy disaster that disproportionately harmed children in "progressive" jurisdictions under heavy political control by Democrats and their union allies. In the UK, non-masked children learning in classrooms is a refreshingly bipartisan priority. In the US, tribalism has turned the question into a signaling-heavy, evidence-light debate, with the pro-child-masking contingent dominated by Democrats, "experts," and most of the news media. Evidence seems to be more or less irrelevant, as politicians – mostly Republicans – who support anything resembling the UK/EU model are loudly attacked as hostile to science and children. It's worth noting that many child masking advocates are the same people who assailed Republicans who favored schools being open last academic year. In other words, they got a crucial question dead wrong, negatively impacting countless children, yet their absolute, self-righteous certitude in this latest skirmish is undiminished.

The object of much of the Left/establishment's ire is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has barred mask mandates in schools (an order that has been at least temporarily struck down by a judge). Similar to the policy in Tennessee, Florida districts can require masks, so long as parents are offered opt-outs. The collective freak-out over Tennessee's plan has been muted-to-nonexistent, compared to the attention paid to Florida. Why? It's hard to imagine it boils down to anything than pure politics; DeSantis is seen as a future threat to national Democrats' power, so he's had a target on his back throughout the pandemic. His critics are unrelenting, never in doubt, and often demonstrably wrong. I shared some of my thoughts on this over the weekend:


DeSantis' press secretary responded to my thread, noting that the opt-out is the framing, which I've covered before. My point was about messaging emphasis, especially given the popularity of mask mandates among Americans (certainly driven by the media's reflexive embrace of superstitious pseudo-science on the matter). It's true that Florida has been suffering through a nasty Delta wave, which has DeSantis' critics in full throat. The state has a better-than-average vaccination rate (tops among red states) and correctly prioritized the most vulnerable citizens for shots (nursing homes are, however, an area of concern). DeSantis was attacked and even called corrupt for his obviously correct vaccine strategy, just as he's been mindlessly smeared for his obviously correct promotion of effective antibody treatments for infected Floridians. As I mentioned in my thread above, there are some areas in which DeSantis is open to fair critiques. But this insanity is representative of so much criticism within the DeSantis Derangement genre: 


It appears as though a total of 12 kids have died from COVID complications in Florida throughout the entire pandemic. More kids die of accidental drowning in the state each year. Let's hope that this downward trajectory continues and that the worst is behind a number of the states that have been pummeled in recent weeks, as this Coronavirus seasonal wave starts to shift to other parts of the country in the fall: 

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I'll leave you with two items. First, this mega study, awaiting peer review, out of Israel that suggests natural immunity (among those who've recovered from the virus) is far more powerful than vaccination alone (the most powerful protection comes from natural immunity plus the vaccine). Second, an important essay about our collective expectations and a realistic COVID endgame: 

Doctors and scientists need to have an honest conversation with the American people about what the goals of COVID-19 vaccination are and how the pandemic will end. Even without the rise of the Delta variant, no one should be surprised to see some people develop infections a few months after vaccination. Though there may be value in eventually giving an additional dose or two to strengthen protection against disease, we’re unlikely to prevent all infections with booster shots. But the key message is that if you’re vaccinated, you’re well protected against life-threatening disease...If we can’t prevent all infections, what’s the endgame? ... Vaccines alone won’t prevent all infections or eliminate the coronavirus, but widespread vaccination could turn COVID-19 into something more like influenza. As a society, Americans have shown that we are willing to live with 12,000 to 60,000 deaths from influenza each year. COVID-19 is more dangerous than the flu. Approximately 630,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus to date. But if we could cut the death rate by 90 percent or more, it would be on par with what we see in a bad flu season. We don’t shut down the economy for the flu. We socialize normally during flu season. Americans have to recalibrate our expectations about what makes a vaccine successful. The public discussion of the pandemic has become distorted by a presumption that vaccination can and should eliminate COVID-19 entirely. Under such an unattainable standard, each breakthrough infection looks like evidence that the vaccines are not working. But in reality, they continue to perform extremely well.

The writer is a well-credentialed epidemiologist and infections disease specialist. I recommend reading the whole thing