Less than a week since face masks stopped being mandatory outdoors in Spain, the prospect of this applying to some interior settings has already been proposed.
The suggestion isn’t one made by the Spanish government, but rather an official organisation which has collected evidence “to demonstrate the usefulness of a change in strategy”, serving also as “a mirror for the rest of society”.
The Spanish Association of Paediatricians (AEP) is in favour of the progressive withdrawal of masks from Spain’s classrooms, as their research has proven that “children’s ability to infect others follows an age-dependent pattern, which increases progressively with age”.
Other Spanish health experts are also beginning to speak of “normalising transmission” as such a high percentage of the population has now been vaccinated or infected, or in many cases both.
That involves accepting that transmission will continue and instead focus efforts on preventing cases that may be more serious, generally among those who are older and those who have pre-existing health conditions.
Since the use of masks in schools is only mandatory for children over 6 years of age, AEP have been able to compare the risk of infection between those who use a mask (primary and secondary education) and those who do not (preschool education), concluding that “there are no significant differences” in transmission between them.
As a result, they propose a progressive de-escalation of mask wearing in classrooms across the country as follows:
- First and second year of primary school: from Monday, February 28th 2022
- Third and fourth year of primary school: from Monday, March 14th 2022
- Fifth and sixth year of primary school: from Monday, March 28th 2022
- All of secondary school (ESO) : from Monday, April 25th 2022
- All of high school/sixth form (Bachiller) : from Monday, May 9th 2022
Both the associations of speech therapists and paediatricians have also spoken up against “the possible negative impact of the use of the mask on learning, relationships and the socialisation of children”.
Throughout the pandemic, Spain has maintained a strict attitude to indoor mask-wearing, making it mandatory since May 2020.
Spanish authorities have however spoken of leading a global push towards treating the coronavirus as an endemic disease similar to the flu, changing the means of surveillance and the importance it is given.
People do continue to die from Covid-19 in Spain and the sixth wave has in fact now claimed more lives (9,126) in the country than the fifth and fourth coronavirus wave.
But according to leading epidemiologist Quique Bassat, “it a good time to consider this de-escalation” of mask wearing in classrooms as a trial because “on the one hand, we have two consecutive weeks of declining infection rates, and on the other a progressive increase in vaccination in children under 12, which although it is not advancing at the rate that I would like to see, it is clearly increasing”.
Together with increased vaccination rates, good ventilation of classrooms would also be used as another tool to replace mask wearing in classrooms.
But could all this apply to adults, seeing as children have a far lower risk of suffering serious health conditions if they contract Covid-19?
The evolution of the pandemic will determine much of this, but slowly but surely, it seems likely that masks indoors will go from being mandatory to recommended at some point in some indoor settings over the course of 2022.