Kids ditch masks for summer, but open question on fall

Expert: No vaccine for ‘Under 12s’ make masks important option

BOSTON — Max Scheflan-Hecht’s got a conflicted relationship with masks -- some of it pivoting around temperature.

“It really stinks when I’m doing PE, physical education,” the second grader said.  “Because it’s so thick that it keeps on making me sweat.”

On the other hand, Max wouldn’t mind using a face mask in winter -- and what about if schools made students wear them in fall?

“That would be okay because it’s fall, and sometimes it gets a little chilly in fall.”

Many parents had hoped that by fall a vaccine would become available for kids, like Max, who are in elementary school -- thus eliminating the need for classroom mask-wearing. But that is looking unlikely.

“Vaccine trials end when enough people in the trial have gotten infected,” said Matthew Ferrari, PhD, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Penn State University. “You want the trial over fast, because you want to know the answer. But you also want less infection out there which elongates the trial.”

The current trials of Covid vaccines on the under 12 group will thus likely drag on longer than anyone would like. And that means a probable new dilemma -- and perhaps some drama -- for parents come fall: mandates that students return to elementary classrooms as they did in spring -- wearing masks.

That will not go over well with Emily Cawley’s son.

“I don’t think the 10-year-old is gonna go the whole summer without a mask and then put it back on in the fall,” she said.  “It was tough at first, but he’s been pretty good about it. But I think time’s running out, probably.”

“For parents, caretakers this is going to be a big adjustment, said Lisa Welch, a caregiver to two boys. “At three-years-old, they’re used to the mask but once they get rid of the mask for two or three months then have to go back with the mask, it’s going to be like starting all over again.”

Ferrari says some schools may have no choice -- since masks are the most effective mitigation, aside from vaccination.

“We’re aggregating a bunch of kids that are not immune because they’re not going to be vaccinated,” he said. “So by doing that we’re actually increasing contact rates and increasing risk.”

If enough kids 12 and over ARE vaccinated, Ferrari said he could see relaxing mask rules.

“But among the young kids below 12, we know that none of them have been vaccinated, then we need to at least be considering having them back in school with masks on just to minimize the risk in that setting,” he said.

A new CDC study underlines the importance of masks as a mitigation measure in elementary schools. Researchers compared schools in Georgia that required students and staff to wear masks and those that made it optional. The rate of Covid infections in the mask-mandatory schools was dramatically lower than in the mask-optional schools. The study also found ventilation to be an important infection control factor.

It is by no means certain masking will be required in Massachusetts schools this fall. Thomas Scott, Ed.D., executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents tells Boston 25 News the group is anticipating guidance on fall from state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley very soon.

“I don’t know how much masks will and won’t be in this next advisory,” Scott said.

If masks ARE part of school reopening, Caitlin Farren says her three children can deal with it.

“They were in home school almost the whole year and when they got to put on masks and go into school they were actually super happy about it,” Farren said.  “So I think they’re excited to have no masks over the summer, playing and doing their stuff outside. But I think they’ll be able to transition back and kind of be happy to be back in that environment. They’re pretty adaptable.”

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