Why these Manitoba professors believe masks should be mandatory in schools

By | August 5, 2020

WINNIPEG — The debate around wearing masks in schools continues to grow as both Alberta and Ontario have made it mandatory for students.

The federal chief public health officer has also suggested that students should wear masks when they return to school in September.

The province announced its back to school plan last week and it did not feature mandatory masks.

However, a pair of professors at the University of Manitoba who deal with infectious diseases feel masks should be made mandatory.

Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor and research chair of emerging viruses at the U of M, said it makes sense why it isn’t mandatory at the moment because there is low community transmission, but added there are other factors to weigh.

“Even within the last few days to the last week, we have seen new information and new data that has been coming out through publication that suggests kids across all age groups, and predominantly those from zero to five, actually may carry at least as much virus in the respiratory tract as adults when they’re infected or potentially more,” said Kindrachuk.

Dr. Anand Kumar, who is a professor of medicine, medical microbiology, and pharmacology at the U of M, said Manitoba should have mandatory masks in school as he feels there is a high risk of transmission.

“You can cut down that risk substantially by wearing a mask, if everybody wears a mask routinely. I think it will be very difficult to completely insulate the schools from either staff or students having coronavirus,” said Kumar.

Kumar added that it is important for people to understand that wearing a mask won’t make them immune from COVID-19, but it could help slow down an outbreak.

“If you’re going to have an outbreak, it makes that outbreak less severe and moves more slowly which gives you time to catch up to it, in terms of your response,” he said.

Kindrachuk said it wouldn’t hurt to be more cautious in schools, especially for those who are viewed as higher-risk individuals.

“We understand with COVID that not everyone is going to show symptoms of disease, and in particular children, where we don’t tend to see severe disease symptoms or even really moderate disease symptoms in the majority of kids that are infected, and this presents a difficulty for people that are in vulnerable populations, whether they are in a higher-risk group because of age or underlying health complications,” said Kindrachuk.

He added that if the government were to take the overly cautious approach, it would help “curb transmission.”

DIFFICULTIES OF MAKING MASKS MANDATORY

Both Kindrachuk and Kumar said the one difficulty the Manitoba government might face if it were to make masks mandatory is getting everybody on board to follow the rules.

“We also have to get everybody across the communities to accept the implementation of those different cautionary measures, and I think that is where one of the questions lies. How readily are parents and kids going to be to start picking up masking within schools?” said Kindrachuk.

“I think the question is whether it is practical and will be accepted given the low level, relatively low level of activity we have,” said Kumar, who added that anywhere that large numbers of people gather, masks should be worn.

REVIEWING THE PLAN

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said at a news conference on Tuesday that the province is considering all options when it comes to wearing masks in school and that mandatory measures are not off the table.

Kindrachuk and Kumar feel right now the province has a good plan in place, even without mandatory masks, but add that if something were to develop, such as a breakout of COVID-19 at a school, they hope those in charge would act quickly to make the necessary changes to keep people safe.

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