Chile is facing one of the largest outbreaks of the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in recent years, with an imminent rise in cases of flu (influenza), in a situation that has forced the authorities to take extreme measures. One of them was the return of the mandatory use of masks for school-age children.
The measure was communicated by the Minister of Health, Ximena Aguilera, who had just faced a controversy over the eventual lack of coordination in the search for a critical bed for a three-month-old baby in the city of San Antonio (Valparaíso Region), which ended dying from pneumonia. The crisis led to a threat of constitutional accusation against the head of the portfolio, which was deactivated after President Gabriel Boric himself reported the resignation of the Undersecretary of Assistance Networks, Fernando Araos, who was accused of being the main person responsible for health management problems.
With this panorama, the South American country will resume the use of face masks that became widespread during the acute phase of the covid pandemic, and which was mandatory until October 2022. On this occasion, the measure will apply only to a part of the population and in a specific place.
Who should wear mandatory masks
According to the indications of the Chilean Ministry of Health (Minsal), masks will be required for all children over the age of five who attend schools. Compliance will be verified by each educational establishment and will be coordinated with the Ministry of Education (Mineduc). In parallel, it was recommended that minors wear the protection element outside the classroom when they are on public transport, crowded places or places with little ventilation.
Higher education establishments such as universities, Technical Training Centers (CFT) and Professional Institutes (IP) were exempt from the obligation.
Adults of any age will continue to have no mandate to wear face masks in public places. The only places where they will be required will be at the entrance to health centers, in an action that became permanent after the covid crisis.
Since when does the measure apply?
In her announcement, the Minister of Health explained that the requirement “will come into force from the moment the Ministry of Education carries out the administrative process”, for which reason it will establish at least as a recommendation as of Wednesday, June 14. In parallel, the Education authority, Marco Antonio Ávila, explained that prior to decreeing the obligation, a period of flexibility will begin for families to buy the element. The imposition of the face mask will end together with the current health alert due to the spread of respiratory viruses, which will expire on August 31.
Other actions to deal with the outbreak
The return of the masks was added to other measures taken by the Executive to try to stop the outbreak of respiratory diseases, which have killed six children in recent weeks. Among them is the installation of a support field hospital for the Roberto del Río Hospital, in the north of Santiago de Chile. Added to this was the expansion in the use of palivizumab, a drug approved by the authority to prevent serious clinical pictures associated with RSV in children under one year of age.
Along with the health actions, the Government defined that in some public departments remote work for parents should be encouraged, so that they can have more time to care for their children and avoid infections.