To mask or not to mask? that is the question.

The school dilemma has been presented as one with dichotomous variables: closed or open, but this is a false dichotomy. Schools have remained open throughout for certain students, but they should not be fully open to all students until they have been made safe. And yet here we find ourselves again, at the start of an extensive road map that details our exit route. And of course, first step on the road is the full opening of all schools without any phased returns or mitigating measures against the aerosol transmission of the virus.

For so many parents their children’s return to school will be a relief. The trials of home schooling, the lack of social interaction and impacts on the mental and physical health have been well detailed in the media. Unfortunately, much less prevalent in the media has been the truth about how the virus spreads in school, how badly schools are prepared for this and the devastating effects this has had, and will continue to have, on the school staff, the children and their families and friends.

So far, according to ONS data there have been 570 deaths amongst school staff counted up to December 28th, with no updated data since. When our children return to school, teachers may be missing. Dinner ladies might no longer be there. Teaching assistants, admin staff, all those people who make up the consistent environment that our children need to prosper- for some, there will be new faces, and the old ones to mourn. Children will have lost family members, mums, dads, aunts and uncles, grandparents - many infected by the children themselves. There will be children whose family members are now chronically unwell, unable to live their pre-Covid existence due to the complications of long-Covid.

And there will be children themselves infected with long-Covid, some trying to cope with the demands of school but needing extra support and different timetables, others unable to attend. Children like Kitty, in her GCSE year and whose mother is the founder of the group LongCovidKids, who is unable to return to school; or Mani, aged 12, who will also be at home, now confined to a wheelchair; or Grace who at age 8 has developed Tourettes after her Covid infection and cannot attend school.

Graph of symptoms from Long Covid Kids Rapid Survey.

Much will have changed for many children and many schools. But what has not changed is that the virus still spreads through aerosol transmission, which means that classrooms need to be well ventilated and all children need to wear masks. CO2 monitors must be installed in all classrooms and class sizes must be drastically reduced.

Without these measures, the numbers of missing teachers, family members and children will continue to rise.

Frances Simpson is a lecturer in Psychology and Counselling at Coventry University (SC.) She is also a sufferer of Long Covid and a founder member of the campaign group LongCovidSOS. She has two children, both with Long Covid since March. is a parent and patient-led advocacy and support group for parents of children with Long Covid. Our story started with a short film on long-lasting symptoms of Covid in children. We are working on The Long Covid Kids Study with PeopleWith

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If your child experiences any symptoms that indicates they are unwell, it COULD be COVID-19, and you should get them a test to help identify if it is a current Covid infection. Please see our Frequently Asked Questions page for more information.

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