What will it be like to go back to school without masks

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On 28 August, the Ministry of Education sent the vademecum on anti-covid measures for returning to school to schools. The use of masks will be very limited and distance learning is not envisaged. Students and experts express cautious enthusiasm: at last we are back to normal but worries about the future remain.

From 12 September, more than 8 million Italian students will return to school in conditions very similar to those that existed before the pandemic. Without masks or online lessons, for example, with a few exceptions.

The return to school will have new rules to follow to limit coronavirus infections and are found in the document that the Ministry of Education sent in recent days to primary and secondary schools. The note, based on the guidelines of the Higher Institute of Health (ISS), also takes into account additional measures that could emerge in the face of a possible increase in risk in the autumn.

After two years of restrictions and distance learning, how does it feel to go back to normal? We asked those directly concerned.

Smile responsibly, even at school

There are those who feel relieved, like Vera, 17, enrolled in the fourth high school in the city of Seriate: “Being able to go back to school without masks that cover almost the entire face means a lot to me. I am really happy with it and I feel comforted. Finally, we will all be able to look at each other again and exchange the smiles that this pandemic situation has often taken away from us ”.

You can go to school even if cold but respiratory symptoms must be “mild” © Stefano Guidi / Getty Images

Even Dario, 14, from Milan, tells of having experienced some difficult moments wearing protective equipment in the classroom and in the spaces provided for by the protocols that have alternated until 31 August 2022: “I understand the usefulness of the mask, but I am glad you don’t have to keep it anymore. He was really exhausting. Sometimes it seemed to me and my teammates that they couldn’t breathe, especially in the heat ”.

Many found a physical barrier in the mask, while for others it was the symbol of a relational barrier. “I started the first high school with masks and this has somewhat mitigated the negative aspects of the experience”, explains Luca from Monza. “At first, interacting and making new friends was a bit tricky because you didn’t see the people you were talking to in the face. But we managed to overcome this situation ”.

Lorenzo’s experience, fourth high school, Monza was different: “Mask in class? For me it is indifferent. I didn’t find it annoying, I always held it above my nose correctly and I never had any problems, except maybe in the summer. The only thing I really hope is that we will be able to go back to school during the intermission. Meeting friends and meeting new ones is what I missed most ”.

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disposable masks supplied at school

The children interviewed admit that they still do not feel completely safe for going back to school: more than infections, today they are afraid of come back isolated or in dad. In addition to student testimonials, several researches show that too scientists and researchers they have engaged in the investigation of possibilities psycho-physical effects resulting from the use of masks.

What the research doesn’t say about students

Generally, real psycho-physical disorders do not seem to emerge. For example, one of the rare international studies conducted by an Italian university argues that prolonged use of masks does not negatively affect the attention span. But the question is more complex.

“For adolescents it is essential to look outside the family in self-knowledge and in the construction of their own identity. In this sense, the constant use of the mask has had more difficult implications ”, explains doctor Stefania Daniele. She is a psychologist and psychotherapist, she has been collaborating for over twenty years with the listening desks for primary and secondary school students in Milan. “For some boys wearing a mask meant both protection from the judgment of others, from possible criticisms that could concern the face, skin imperfections but also a shield with which to protect their emotional reactions. For them, the return to school without a mask will probably be accompanied by a certain amount of anxiety, but it will be an important challenge to face and overcome in order to resume their growth path in relationships that have returned to almost normal “.

back to school kids playing maskIf the epidemiological situation worsens, the rules could change © Álvaro Calvo / Getty Images

The situation is different for the little ones, where the difference is also made by the way in which the parents have motivated the request to wear protective equipment: “In the talks of these two years, especially with children of the first cycle, the regret of not having I have never been able to see the whole face of my classmates and teachers, in addition to the difficulty in understanding the emotions or intentions of others, or to make oneself understood, a difficulty that has been suffered most by slightly shy and / or foreign children. Facial expression is a very powerful means of emotional communication, also because it is not very controllable. So going back to school without a mask is certainly very important for the quality of interpersonal communication for everyone, young and old ”.

The handbook for returning to school

“Prepare and be ready” is the motto of the new anti-covid school protocol, which archives the emergency approach to counter the spread of infection and focuses on mitigation strategies. The objectives are to ensure the continuity of face-to-face lessons and to minimize the impact of the measures on teaching activities.

In summary, entry to school is always allowed, even for people with a cold (rhinorrhea). Only people with Covid-19 positive or with symptoms compatible with the virus, such as fever above 37.5 degrees, severe headache, cough and cold with difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of taste and smell, cannot enter the building.

Students with mild respiratory symptoms can attend in presence, as long as they do not have fever: in these cases, the ISS provides for the use of surgical masks / ffp2 for those over six years old until the symptoms disappear, together with hygiene of the hands and the so-called ‘respiratory label’ (protect the mouth and nose during sneezing or coughing by using paper tissues, etc.). The use of masks is recommended only for staff and frail pupils, who risk developing severe forms of coronavirus. For all the others it is not explicitly required.

No more distance learning either quarantine: if a case of positivity to covid-19 is found, the infected person will be housed in a dedicated room or in an isolation area. Close contacts will follow the indications valid in all other areas, i.e. self-monitoring of ten days with the obligation to wear an Ffp2 mask.

Furthermore, the ministry mentions an “ordinary (periodic) and extraordinary sanitation in the presence of one or more confirmed cases” and “Frequent air changes”opening the windows.

The distance learning it is no longer provided, not even for positive pupils. It is not allowed to stay in school in case of positivity to Covid-19 or with symptoms attributable to the virus, such as fever above 37.5 degrees, severe headache, cough and cold with difficulty in breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of taste and smell. The students with mild respiratory symptoms (cold) and without fever, they attend in presence wearing the surgical masks / Ffp2 until symptoms resolve, paying attention to hand hygiene and respecting respiratory etiquette. To the fragile subjectsi.e. school staff and pupils at risk of developing severe forms of Covid-19, are recommended to use Ffp2 bezels. In the cases of suspects Covid-19 at schoolthe person with the symptoms is housed in the dedicated room or isolation area. . You will have to leave the building as soon as possible to reach your home, then follow the instructions of the doctor / pediatrician. For minors, parents must be advised back to school after an infection with Covid-19 is allowed by presenting thenegative test result (molecular or antigenic) at the end of the isolation. THE close contacts of a positive at school they will not have to remain in quarantine: the indications valid in all other areas will be followed, that is self-monitoring of ten days with the obligation to wear a mask Ffp2.

A debated issue

In view of the winter, the experts reiterate the need to equip the institutes with ventilation systems to support the “rules of good behavior”. However, as noted by the ordinary of Hygiene at Cattolica and consultant to the Minister of Health Walter Ricciardi, “it appears that the schools are not equipped”.

Proper ventilation of the classrooms is only one of the nodes around which the political and scientific quarrel unfolds. In particular, we continue to discuss the mandatory nature of the masks. In recent months, with the end of the state of emergency, there have been protests from parents, psychologists, doctors and school staff who asked the institutions to drop the obligation.

“When schools reopen, there will be no obligation to wear masks. Then we will see based on the evolution of the epidemiological situation ”, said the Minister of Health Roberto Speranza. Archived, for the moment, the masks, therefore remains theuncertainty about the future.

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