Secondary school students should have to wear masks in classroom, says former HSE boss

Tony O'Brien believes it makes sense to ask students to wear masks when they return to school
Secondary school students should have to wear masks in classroom, says former HSE boss

Face coverings will be compulsory in shops and shopping centres from next Monday. File picture.

Secondary school students should have to wear masks in the classroom.

That is according to the former Director General of the HSE, who is accusing the Department of Education of dithering on the issue.

Under the current guidelines, the use of PPE like face masks is not required except in certain circumstances, such as performing intimate care or where a suspected case of Covid-19 is identified while the school is in operation.

Face coverings will be compulsory in shops and shopping centres from next Monday.

Tony O'Brien believes it makes sense to ask students to wear masks when they return to school.

“They’re going to need to wear masks to travel to school on public transport,” he said.

Former HSE chief Tony O'Brien. File picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Former HSE chief Tony O'Brien. File picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

“And then when they are in situations that are likely to be equally crowded, they’ll not be required to wear them.

“Many of those students are going to the coming from families who have vulnerable other members of their families at home.

“Some of the teachers will have vulnerabilities, other students will have vulnerabilities.

“I think it’s just a matter until we’re going to see a requirement for masks and it would be better just to get on with it and make that clear at this stage.” 

Meanwhile, public health officials are considering whether to recommend face masks be mandatory in secondary schools.

The current advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team is that face coverings are not required in school settings.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly says NPHET are awaiting a report from the European Centre for Disease Control on the issue.

“There is emerging evidence that younger children are far less contagious and far less susceptible than older children.

“So NPHET is waiting to see what the ECDC says.

They may come back and they may recommend in secondary schools for example or over a particular age that face masks should be worn.

Late last month, the Government announced a blueprint for reopening schools this autumn, including a €375m financial package.

These plans include more than  1,000 extra staff for post-primary schools to reduce class sizes, as well as the supply of PPE gear and strict cleaning regimes.

Also included in the plan is assigned seating on school buses, 120 additional guidance counsellors and psychologists, and 1m distancing between pupils in secondary schools.

On Thursday evening, the Department of Education said their PPE procurement process has identified "a number of suppliers that are capable of providing the full suite of core products" required for reopening schools.

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