NIH director says school mask rules for kids under 12 is the ‘best thing’ to reduce spread of COVID-19

francis collins NIH director
Dr Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing to discuss vaccines and protecting public health during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Washington, U.S., September 9, 2020.

Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said on Sunday that “masks are the best thing we’ve got right now” to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools as students are gearing up to return to class.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended people wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, as some areas have recorded surging case counts in recent weeks.

Children younger than 12 years old aren’t currently approved to receive any of the COVID-19 vaccines. In its guidance for K-12 schools, the CDC emphasizes the importance of encouraging vaccinations among eligible student populations, in addition to “other prevention strategies” like social distancing and wearing masks indoors.

“When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet … it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking,” the agency said.

Collins on Sunday acknowledged the confusion over guidelines in workplaces, schools, and other public spaces as new case counts rise aross the US.

“I know people are frustrated, and it’s gotten very political, and people are looking for someone to blame. Just put all that aside and look at the facts,” Collins said on “Fox News Sunday.” “If Delta is as contagious as we now know it is, and we want to try to put an end to what is a very significant uptick right now, wearing masks, if you’re under 12 and can’t be vaccinated when you’re in school, is a really smart thing to do.”

Read more: Internal CDC document warns ‘the war has changed’ with the more infectious Delta variant

Collins also on Sunday emphasized the harrowing total of COVID deaths in the US. According to data from John Hopkins University, there have been nearly 620,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic as of August 1.

“If we are going to be able to continue, whether in business or in school, to do things that we really value, putting the mask on is the best way to ensure that things don’t get worse,” Collins said. “So it seems like a sacrifice worth making.”

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