Northern Ireland

Coronavirus: Face coverings 'encouraged' but not for 'routine use' in schools

High school students at school, wearing N95 Face masks. - stock photo Image copyright izusek/Getty Images

Face coverings are set to be "strongly encouraged" in NI schools if social distancing is not possible, but are "not generally recommended for routine use".

That is according to draft guidance for the reopening of schools seen by BBC News NI.

The final version of the detailed guidance is due to be sent to schools before the end of the week.

It follows the announcement that pupils can go back to school from September.

On Monday, it became compulsory to wear a mask in shops and other enclosed public spaces in NI but Education Minister Peter Weir said the executive was not recommending it for pupils.

On Tuesday, Belfast Royal Academy (BRA) announced it was making it mandatory for pupils and staff to wear face coverings when they return.

The draft guidance comes from the NI Department of Education, school leaders and key partners.

It takes its lead from public health guidance, where "face coverings are used in particular circumstances - short periods in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible".

Within education settings, the draft guidance sets out that:

  • Given the risk mitigations in place in schools to limit and contain the spread, face coverings are not generally recommended for routine use in schools;
  • Face coverings must be worn in staff rooms and during adult to adult meetings lasting more than 15 minutes and by adults visiting the school site;
  • Face coverings are strongly encouraged for activities that entail large numbers of staff or pupils within an enclosed space where social distancing is not possible;
  • It is mandatory for all pupils aged 13 and over to wear a face covering on public transport;
  • It is also strongly recommended that all pupils, regardless of age, should wear a face covering on all buses, trains or taxis for the journey to school where it is appropriate for them to do so and they are able to handle them as directed.
Image copyright PA Media

The guidance says that if staff and pupils wish to use face coverings during the routine school day, that is acceptable.

However, it says that schools should also be aware that some people -including children - are exempt from wearing face coverings.

The draft guidance differentiates between Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and face coverings.

PPE, it says, is "specialist medical grade equipment that has been and will continue to be used when working with some pupils whose hygiene or care needs involve the possible spread of liquids or aerosol dispersion such as vomiting or spitting".

The Irish government has recommended that secondary school students and teachers should wear face coverings when a distance of two metres cannot be maintained.

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