Face mask requirements for school children in Finland did not reduce the spread of covid-19, a new Finnish study shows.
In Finland, as in Sweden, the use of face masks on public transport at peak travel times was recommended during the height of Covid. However, Finland took this a step further and also recommended that children over 12 years old wear masks at school. Although it was a recommendation, some cities implemented it as mandatory and in some cases children as young as ten years old were forced to wear a face mask at school.
A new study by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, published in the scientific journal BMC Public Health, looks at the impact of mask use on the incidence of covid-19 in different Finnish cities with different mask restrictions in the fall of 2021.
– Despite a lack of clear understanding regarding the effectiveness of face masks in school environments, mask mandates were viewed as a relatively simple intervention to control the spread of the virus, Aapo Juutinen, the lead author of the study, told Cosmos Magazine. School closures had already been implemented in the spring of 2021, and many considered it crucial to keep schools open while taking appropriate measures to ensure the safety of students and staff.
The researchers compared the number of cases of the disease in 14-day periods over four months, looking at people aged 7-9 years, 10-12 years and 30-49 years. The younger children were used as a control group as they could represent the same schools as the older children, but did not wear masks. The adults represented the children’s parents.
Data were obtained from the National Infectious Diseases Register (NIDR). The cities investigated were Turku, Helsinki and Tampere. The reason for choosing these cities was because the number of covid-19 cases was at similar levels before the implementation of mask requirements. Only Turku had mask requirements for children aged 10 years and above.
The study found that mandatory mask requirements for children in schools did not affect the number of covid-19 cases. For example, Turku had one of the highest rates of covid-19 among children aged 10 to 12 years at the time, despite the mask requirements for children.
“According to our analysis, no additional effect was gained from mandating face masks“, it is stated in the study’s concluding remarks.
However, it is unclear how rigorously the mask requirement was adhered to by children at school. There was also no requirement for specific masks, although Juutinen suggests that surgical masks were most common at the time. However, he believes that the study helps to understand how covid-19 restrictions work in schools.
– We will continue our research since there is still a lot to learn about the covid-19 and I hope that our work supports evidence and science-based policy making, Juutinen concludes.