Virginia Tech scientist: Children will likely follow mask compliance rules


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Think of toxic secondhand smoke when you think about how the coronavirus virus can linger in the air you breathe in offices, schools and your home. The more secondhand smoke you inhale, the greater your risk of inhaling toxins that can cause lung cancer.

Similarly, when the virus is expelled in a room via droplets, the greater your risk of inhaling an invisible enemy that can kill.

That’s the easy-to-absorb analogy provided by Dr. Linsey Marr an aerosol specialist at Virginia Tech.

Marr and 238 other scientists from around the world recently convinced the World Health Organization to adopt new guidelines based on research that shows the coronavirus can float around a room for hours while waiting for an unsuspecting host to simply inhale.

She is pleased the WHO announced it will sound the alarm, calling for improved airflow in buildings, the use of devices to scrub the air of dangerous pathogens, and avoidance of crowds. Marr is also working to convincing WHO to more forcefully recommend the wearing of masks after the U.S. bungled the message.

Precious months were lost in waging a war on COVID-19 but Marr remains optimistic that progress can be made before children return to school in the fall.

“I’d like to see a little stronger guidance on masks they say — oh, they were saying wear a mask only if you can’t maintain one meter or 3 feet of distance from other people — but I think it will more effective if you wear a mask any time you are indoors — with other people outside of their own houses,” Marr said.

Marr is calling on the nation to spend the money to improve air quality in brick-and-mortar schools and construct a plan to repurpose empty buildings.

“Some [buildings] are going to have better ventilation — conditions may be more conducive to having kids back in school full time — while others need to think about finding other space where they can conduct classes outdoors. Also, [examine] their unused space-theaters that are currently closed anyway,” said Marr.

The scene has played out far too many times across America: Adults who refuse to wear a mask in buildings that are open to the public create a scene while shopping for food and supplies.

The new guidelines come just as states are poised to reopen schools, and Marr saying kids are more trainable than adults when it comes to mask compliance. Marr, a mother of two, says her little ones followed the rules in summer camp; rules that many grownups have refused to follow.

“From day one they wore a mask; there was enforcement there were good discipline reminders gentle reminders kids can do it,” she said.

This past weekend the president did it. President Donald Trump was photographed wearing a mask while visiting hospitalized service members at Walter Reed Medical Center outside Washington D.C. While a veterans group has derided the visit as a photo-op, Marr says the picture can speak a thousand words in her ongoing efforts to convince Americans to mask-up in buildings.

“I was very glad to see that President Trump had worn a mask this past weekend; it sends an important message to his supporters who he had told that masks were an option — and that if people who wore masks were against Trump — so now he is wearing a mask so I think that is the message we need to send,” said Marr.

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