The public health advice relating to COVID-19 is kept under continuous review by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), by my Department and the Government. The NPHET reviews international developments as a component of their overall examination of the evolving epidemiology of the Covid-19 and are informed by the international scientific evidence, and guidance by international bodies including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). WHO and ECDC guidance is formulated in the context of considered appraisal of the international experience and accumulating scientific evidence in relation to COVID-19.
The aim of face coverings is to reduce the spread of infection by acting as a source control to stop the spread of infection by the person wearing the mask (including those who do not know they are infected, such as those with no symptoms) or to protect the wearer from droplet splashes or inhaling airborne contaminants including small (aerosol) and large particle droplets.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the advice we are giving is that the use of face masks by persons going out in public has been recommended by an increasing number of countries. In Ireland, cloth face coverings are recommended in situations where physical distancing may not be possible, in crowded workplaces, places of worship and in busy or crowded outdoor spaces where there is significant congregation. Face coverings are also mandatory on public transport, including in taxis, as well as in bus and rail stations and in shops and other retail outlets. In restaurants, you should wear a face covering on your way to and from your table.
In both the primary and post-primary setting, it is a requirement that staff wear a face covering when a physical distance of 2m from other staff or students cannot be maintained. Children in the post-primary setting should also wear a face covering when a physical distance of 2m from other staff or students cannot be maintained. It is not recommended that children attending primary school wear face-coverings. The requirements in relation to use of face coverings in schools are clearly outlined in the sectoral guidance available on the ‘Back to School’ webpage at gov.ie.
The WHO in their Guidance on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19 advise that the general public should be encouraged to use medical and non-medical masks in public settings, including schools. This advice can be found at www.who.int/publications/i/item/advice-on-the-use-of-masks-in-the-community-during-home-care-and-in-healthcare-settings-in-the-context-of-the-novel-coronavirus-(2019-ncov)-outbreak
The ECDC advise that “in secondary schools, the use of face masks is recommended for both students and adults” and that “The use of masks should be seen as a complementary measure, rather than a single measure to prevent transmission within schools”.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has also issued guidance on use of face-coverings in childcare and educational settings to provide advice for staff and children, which is available at: www.gov.ie/en/publication/532b6-health-advice-provided-by-the-health-protection-surveillance-centre-hpsc-for-the-safe-reopening-of-schools-and-educational-facilities/
I would also direct you to the HPSC recommendations for sports activities for children and adolescents which is available at: www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/guidance/sportandrecreation/COVID%2019%20Recommendations%20for%20Sports%20for%20children.pdf.
It is important to note that face coverings complement other non-pharmaceutical intervention such as social distancing, hand washing, respiratory/cough etiquette, reducing number of contacts, in reducing transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.