U.K. Study Fails to Prove Masks Work in Schools
(Bloomberg) -- England introduced new mask rules in schools to curb the spread of Covid based on a study that didn’t provide conclusive evidence of their effectiveness, according to a report published by the Department of Education.
The government announced on Monday that secondary-school students in England have to wear face coverings from this term in an effort to stop the spread of the omicron variant. The other U.K. nations -- Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland -- had already put in place such measures.
The study cited by the department didn’t provide proof of a statistically significant decline in absences. The research compared 123 U.K. schools that used masks with about 1,200 others that didn’t during the Covid wave fueled by the delta variant.
Schools with face-covering rules in October 2021 saw their absence rate drop by 2.3 percentage points, to 3%, two to three weeks later. In schools that didn’t use masks, absences fell by 1.7 percentage points, to 3.6%.
However, the sample size was too small and researchers couldn’t exclude the possibility that the higher reduction in schools using masks was due to chance, officials said.
“The study and research outlined in this report does not provide strong justification for introducing this policy in schools,” said Sarah Lewis, professor of molecular epidemiology at the University of Bristol.
Mask mandates can detract from the quality of education and exclude pupils with hearing difficulties from discussions, Lewis said. “Where there is insufficient evidence of a benefit of a policy and evidence of harms the default should be not to intervene,” she said.
The decision to impose the mask rules was a “really tough choice,” but one that was necessary for a few weeks, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said in a Times Radio interview.
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