The government has ordered the country’s schools to grant pupils “mask breaks” after every two hours to prevent carbon dioxide retention. According to local media reports, the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) has expressed concerns about the impact of ‘carbon dioxide retention’ for younger people wearing face coverings and has ordered the Department of Basic Education to ensure that pupils are given a mask break every two hours to ensure they do not get carbon dioxide retention.
These mask break “entails going outdoors and removing their masks, and breathing for approximately 5-15 minutes,” read the MAC memo.
In April this year, a study from the BMC Institute for Infectious Diseases found that there are ‘significant concentrations of carbon dioxide’ in routinely used face masks. However, it must be stressed that these levels are acceptable for ‘short-term use’. The institute also concluded that ‘debate remains’ over just how high these CO2 numbers really are.
“Although a significant increase in CO2 concentrations are noted with routinely used face-masks, the levels still remain within acceptable limits for short-term use. Therefore, there should not be a concern in their regular day-to-day use for healthcare providers.”
“Use of face masks resulted in significant increases in CO2 concentrations. However, the increases in CO2 concentrations did not breach short-term (15-min) limits. Importantly, these levels were considerably lower than in the long-term. Whether increase in CO2 levels are clinically significant remains debatable.”
The directive comes as South African schools opened and learners starting to attend classes on a full basis. Schools have been closed since June 28 following the introduction of stricter Level 4 Covid-19 restrictions to contain a surge in infections and since the start of the pandemic, learners have been attending school on a rotational basis.
According to the advisory by the MAC, all primary schools were to open at full capacity and ensure that pupils maintain a physical distance of at least one metre within classrooms. High schools were also allowed to immediately bring back all pupils provided the one metre physical distancing is maintained.
“Where this is not possible, attendance on a rotational basis should continue presently acknowledging the relatively higher risk of Covid-transmission and illness in children aged 15 to 19 years.”
South Africa has the continent’s highest number of Covid-19 infections, with 2.46 million reported cases and over 72 000 deaths since March 2020.