Health Ministry said set to suspend mandatory face masks during school classes
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Health Ministry said set to suspend mandatory face masks during school classes

Education Ministry, experts, students and teachers all say mask requirement during prolonged heat wave makes studies impossible; many schools threaten to close if no change made

Israeli students wear protective face masks at the Hashalom School in Mevaseret Zion, near Jerusalem, May 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli students wear protective face masks at the Hashalom School in Mevaseret Zion, near Jerusalem, May 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry was reportedly set Monday to suspend a requirement for schoolchildren to wear face masks in class, after facing growing criticism from the Education Ministry, municipalities, schoolkids and parents, who all said the demand was impossible, particularly amid an intense heatwave gripping the country.

As the Health Ministry held a discussion on the matter, Channel 12 reported that officials were likely to declare that at least until the weekend, when the heatwave is set to end, students in grades 4-12 will no longer need to wear the masks in class.

Education Ministry Director-General Shmuel Abuav earlier sent a letter to the Health Ministry’s outgoing director general, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, saying the mandatory face masks made studies impossible and demanding a cancellation of the policy.

“Over the last two days we have been contacted by hundreds of students, indicating that mandatory masks during the heatwave is a demand that can’t be met. There may be air conditioning in class, but the heat is still unbearable and many students say it is impossible for them to concentrate,” he wrote.

Shmuel Abuav of the Education Ministry speaks at the 16th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 11, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

According to Health Ministry requirements, students in the fourth grade and up must cover their mouths and noses with masks during classes out of fear of spreading the novel coronavirus. Younger children must wear masks only while outside the classroom.

The series of blisteringly hot days that began Saturday was expected to last until Thursday. Meteorologists said it could end up being the longest such event on record in Israel.

In Tel Aviv and Eilat, temperatures reached 40.3 Celsius (104.5 Fahrenheit). North of the Dead Sea, temperatures hit 43°C (109°F) while the coolest places in the country, other than the Mount Hermon on the Golan Heights, were Ashdod at 27°C (80°F) and Ashkelon at 25°C (77°F), Channel 12 reported. In the capital, Jerusalem, the temperature reached 36°C (96.8°F).

Several cities canceled school classes Monday and Tuesday because of the high heat combined with the need for stifling face masks.

The renewed shutdowns came just as the country’s schools reopened this week, following two months of closure due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In Rishon Lezion, some parents said they would keep their kids home for next few days to protest the mask requirement during the heat wave.

In other cities, including Herzliya, municipalities said classes would be canceled on Tuesday. Tel Aviv has told each school to decide on its own whether to scrap lessons.

School children wearing protective face masks preparing to go back to school, May 16, 2020. (Chen Leopold/ Flash90)

Ramat Gan Mayor Carmel Shama Hacohen told Channel 12 news that he had also decided to cancel classes for older students until Sunday.

Walla news quoted the Pediatricians Association calling for students to be exempt from the mask requirement.

“Kids wearing masks for long hours is not practical and borders on extremely difficult. Masks that become soaked with sweat are unsustainable,” the organization was quoted as saying.

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