But quarantines were disruptive for students and parents and led, in mid-July, to more than 1 million children being forced out of schools, or 14 percent of the public school population. During the same period, about 7 percent of teachers were sent home.
Rudo Manokore-Addy, the mother of a 7-year-old and 3-year-old in London, described herself as more cautious when it came to the virus than the typical British parent. In the spring of 2020, she encouraged her daughters to wear cloth masks outside the house. At times last summer and this past winter, she kept both girls home from school to observe the schools’ virus policies before sending her children back.
Last spring, during the Delta surge, she and her husband gladly kept their children in school, unmasked.
“I was quite relaxed,” she said. “At the end, we just resolved to kind of go with it. We were confident the school had practices in place.”
In the United States, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends universal masking inside school buildings, and the C.D.C. has advised that breaches in mask use were likely responsible for some spread of Covid-19 in American schools.
This recommendation has been divisive, with nine states attempting to ban school mask orders, according to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a think tank. But with low vaccination rates in many communities and limited access to regular virus testing across the country, masking may be one of the easiest safety measures for American schools to put into place. In addition, the C.D.C. has said that students who come into contact with the virus in schools do not need to quarantine if both individuals wore well-fitting masks.
The American conversation on masks is “so polarized,” said Alasdair Munro, a pediatric infectious-disease researcher at the University Hospital Southampton. “It seems to either be viewed as an essential, nonnegotiable imperative or a very harmful infringement upon individual liberty.”