Should masks be enforced as Danish schools re-open?



Danes and internationals alike react to schools' opening, causing confusion and criticism of new rules.


Photograph: iStock

Text: Jakob Weizman


As Denmark's Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen announced on the 28th of January confirming that Denmark would extend its lockdown until the end of February, this did not include children from preschool to fourth grade.


On the 8th of February, schools for younger children opened up once more, with the Danish government assuring that this was the best course of action. However, concerns have been raised regarding the safety of those involved; teachers, students and parents. The government claims that up to 250 million kroner were being lost each day by keeping small children at home.


In the guidelines published by the Ministry of Children and Education, there is an alarming section which reads: "Teachers (pedagogues) and other staff do not have the right to wear masks due to the need to ensure that students are able to see and understand the facial expressions of the staff."


This means that municipalities (kommune) and administrators of schools in Denmark can prevent educators and staff from wearing a mask in schools, thereby increasing the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Parents and teachers alike have reacted to the rules, with many challenging this decision to make masks mandatory for both teachers and students. While teachers do have the right to wear a visor, some believe it is not enough to keep everyone safe.


The International spoke to a very concerned teacher Jonathan David Bauer, from the US and teaches at an international school in Denmark. "I hope the government can understand that people, like my wife, who has cystic fibrosis, are in danger as I enter into this situation".


Bauer does not teach primary school but hopes the rules can be changed once all schools open relatively soon. "I'm very anxious about returning if I'm forbidden to wear a mask. Our reaction to the news is to act. We're used to panicking over this pandemic, mainly due to my wife's illness, but now it's time to push towards a more sensible resolution and try to stay calm," said Bauer.


"We're used to panicking over this pandemic, mainly due to my wife's illness, but now it's time to push towards a more sensible resolution and try to stay calm."

Parents, both Danes and Internationals, also shared their concern with The International about the current protocols enforced in Denmark's schools, especially for families of high-risk persons, similar to Bauer's situation.


Another international who shared his views was Johan Gram, who resides in Copenhagen, working as an economist. "My wife has an immune-related disease and works as a teacher, so we have been extra careful during this period".


"We elected to put our daughter on leave of absence (orlov) at her preschool (børnehave) in November after a huge outbreak of 17 positive COVID-19 cases within a week. Several teachers were COVID-19 positive, and the virus spread to many children," said Gram.


Furthermore, the Danish Health Authority (Sundhedsstyrelsen) also informed the public that visors cannot be accepted as a reliable alternative to wearing masks, thus furthering panic and calling for action.


Last week, the UK media outlet The Guardian reported that "up to 100 UK children a week hospitalised with the rare post-Covid disease," known as paediatric inflammatory multi-system syndrome (PIMS/MIS-C). According to Lindsey Lonowski, an American who lives in Denmark working as a molecular biologist and geneticist at the University of Copenhagen, this issue may also affect Denmark.


"I am at higher risk of developing COVID-19 complications because I have an autoimmune disease. The condition runs in my family, so I also worry about my children being predisposed to developing complications from COVID, such as (PIMS/MISC)," said Lonowski. "The exact cause is unknown, but it appears to be related to an excessive immune response to COVID."


"If we're going to play with fire by sending our youngest children back, at least protect them, their teachers, and their at-risk family members to the fullest extent possible."

Lonowski also pointed out that the new guidelines fail to mention anything about students wearing masks or visors, only referring to the school staff. This is both confusing and concerning to many, and Danish authorities should provide further clarification.


"If we're going to play with fire by sending our youngest children back, at least protect them, their teachers, and their at-risk family members to the fullest extent possible. Safety first, seeing and understanding facial expressions second," concluded Lonowski.


Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/05/up-to-100-uk-children-a-week-hospitalised-with-rare-post-covid-disease


https://www.tv2fyn.dk/amp/665039?fbclid=IwAR117gxlRhT3aPX4K7kDCNDdlhbT3DzqP54DrIuKpAb3SFIV06ZedcF2PYo

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