Returning to school is never fun, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it exponentially more surreal.
Last week, the Texas Education Agency released guidance stating that masks must be worn in the classroom. It also said that face shields can be used in certain educational contexts.
But Dr. Erin Carlson, an associate clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington, said face shields alone don’t prevent coronavirus transmission.
“People need to be aware that face shields are not a substitute for a cloth face covering, period,” she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that cloth facial coverings be worn in classrooms where students are seated less than 6 feet apart. Meanwhile, health experts have warned that mask alternatives, such as face shields and neck gaiters, are ineffective at containing coronavirus spread. Even still, some North Texas school districts are implementing those less vetted options.
Masks must be worn in Dallas ISD schools, according to the district’s website. However, students will be allowed to exchange their cloth mask for a face shield in the classroom if they want.
Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, said that teachers and students should stick to wearing masks.
“The CDC does not recommend the use of face shields for normal, everyday activities or as a substitute for cloth facial coverings,” he said.
During a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott said the state will continue to provide school districts with personal protective equipment, including hand-sanitizing material and masks.
Texas has already received $600 million in PPE, including masks, hand sanitizer and face shields, according to the Texas Medical Association.
In July, Denton ISD announced on its Facebook page it will provide 10,000 neck gaiters to secondary students, which would bear school colors and logos. According to a new study by Duke University researchers, though, neck gaiters are counterproductive in preventing coronavirus transmission.
Carlson said that’s because gaiters break up disease-laden droplets into a fine mist when one speaks.
“One-hundred and ten — that’s right, more than 100% of droplets got through a neck gaiter,” Carlson said. “So if you’re going to have students wearing nothing but neck gaiters, you might as well have them wearing no masks at all.”
The study also found that bandanas are ineffective in preventing spread.
The CDC recommends that people age 2 and older wear masks anytime it is difficult to maintain a safe physical distance. In July, though, Abbott issued an executive order stating that children 10 and younger do not have to comply.
Following Abbott’s lead, Carroll ISD has only mandated that students age 10 and older wear masks. Frisco ISD has also announced it will not require masks to be worn in the classroom for students in the second grade and younger.
Carlson said the idea that young children are roaming classrooms mask-free is “disturbing.”
“We simply do not have the data yet to know the extent to which children transmit COVID,” she said. “There are several studies on this … and we still don’t have enough evidence to make a conclusive statement about whether or not children effectively transmit COVID.”
Multiple studies have indicated that young kids may transmit the virus at similar levels to adults, according to the nonprofit research organization Kaiser Family Foundation. Others, however, suggest children 10 and younger are less likely to do so.
Some countries, such as South Korea, have proven that mask mandates make it possible to safely reopen schools, Carlson said. North Texas schools should follow their lead, she added.
“If we see what [those countries] have done,” Carlson said, “everyone is wearing a heavy cloth face covering that covers their nose and mouth and everyone is social distanced.”