DECRYPTION – Since Monday, children must wear the mask from the age of 6, against 11 years previously, in public places.
This is a question that has come up since the start of the epidemic. Against the background of a disease that is a priori safe for children, is the wearing of a mask justified for this category of the population? With the explosion of contamination with the Omicron variant since the Christmas period, the government has implemented new health measures, including the obligation to wear a mask in public spaces from the age of 6, against 11 years previously.
This measure, among others, aims to limit the circulation of the virus as much as possible. “The chains of transmission also pass through the children», Recalls Mircea Sofonea, lecturer in epidemiology at the University of Montpellier. For him, lowering the age of the obligation to wear a mask is necessarily useful. “From an epidemiological point of view, this is justified: the child sheds the virus like adults“. At the end of November, moreover, the age group from 0 to 9 years old was the second most affected by the coronavirus after the 30-39 years old. In December, and as the fifth wave began to show very high rates of contamination, the incidence rate among the youngest was similar to the adolescent age group (10-19 years), before dropping down again with School holidays.
A study by the Institut Pasteur published in November, and covering the summer period, looked at the role of children in the transmission of the virus. The researchers have shown that, among other factors, the presence of children in the entourage is associated with an increased risk of infection of 40% for children in primary school and up to + 90% for less. of 3 years. “This shows that it is important to keep all measures at school, ventilation and masks», Then estimated Professor Arnaud Fontanet, head of the study.
In schools, the wearing of masks was justified by the government’s choice to keep them open. “But is the compulsory mask in public space really essential?»Asks Mircea Sofonea. While the incidence rate is exploding in all age groups of the population and the end of the school holidays should not weaken the circulation of the virus among the youngest, this measure seems useful but, for the researcher, it is difficult to quantify its impact in the fight against the Omicron wave.
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The question of the benefit is therefore not completely settled, and, inevitably, the generalization of the wearing of the mask in the life of the children questions, in particular because of the impact that this can have on their health. As with the Alpha, Delta variants or with the initial strain, “there are no medical arguments that attest to the complication, explains to Figaro Professor Christèle Gras-Le Guen, President of the French Pediatric Society. There is no evidence today that the mask is dangerous for physical health“.
Although no study has found any respiratory complication or skin lesion caused by the mask, it could, on the other hand, affect the psychological development of the child. “The mask alters the interaction between adults and children in a time when communication and the emotional are essential for learning, abounds Anne Sénéquier *, psychiatrist and researcher at Iris. Especially for kindergartens“. By the age of 6, on the other hand, children have already built their personalities well. “There is feedback that shows that wearing a mask leads to a complication in learning to read, in classes of CP, CE1 or CE2, for example.“, Reports Christèle Gras-Le Guen all the same. The mask is compulsory at school, and children’s health professionals have often warned about the consequences of such a measure on learning to speak.
Wearing a mask for children is also measured in terms of arduousness. The Minister of Education himself recognized this difficulty when the obligation to wear a mask at school was lifted in October at the end of the 4th wave. “I always said it would be the first relief“, Hammered the minister, evoking”a very restrictive measure for children“.
For this category of the population, which is more fragile and does not necessarily understand the context of this pandemic, the health constraints can be difficult to experience. “The big problem is that we spoke to the children very little. We spoke mostly to adults, with great confusion», Estimates Anne Sénéquier. And to conclude: “A child can adapt easily, but it has to be simple. It’s a complicated balance game“.
* Anne Sénéquier recently co-wrote with Pascal Boniface Quite simply geopolitics.
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