Student deaths stir controversy over face mask rule in PE classes

By Wan Lin


Senior year students at the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China in Beijing walk out of the school on Monday, their first day back school after stay-at-home learning for two months amid coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Yang Ruoyu/GT

Netizens have expressed outrage over recent cases in which two middle school students reportedly died after running while wearing face masks in Physical Education (PE) classes. Experts suggest there is no need for students in low-risk regions to wear masks while having classes in broad and open spaces.

A 14-year-old schoolboy in Central China’s Hunan Province suddenly died while taking part in a sports class on Friday. The student reportedly died from breathing problems while running with an N95 mask during the 1km physical test.

Similarly, another junior student in Central China’s Henan Province also died in a PE class on April 24 when running while wearing a face mask. The student’s father said surveillance video showed that he ran around a sports field, suddenly leaned back and fell to the ground, reported Jiankang Shibao, a health-focused newspaper, on Monday.

The parents suspected that their son died as a result of running with a mask, which is required under the school rules amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The reports drew a great deal of controversy and discussion on social media. Some netizens criticized the practice of requiring students to wear masks during PE class, calling it unnecessary and also dangerous.

The school regulations for COVID-19 prevention should not be hard-and-fast, but flexible and take into account students’ physical conditions. Otherwise the so-called prevention rule is just a formalism,” commented one netizen on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform.

Though many slammed the idea of running while wearing masks, experts pointed out there was no positive causal relationship between them.

The students’ deaths might have resulted from other underlying causes, like some other diseases. Doing exercise with a mask on won’t necessarily lead to sudden death directly,” Zhang Shunan, a respiratory expert from the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Other experts also pointed out that there are many causes of sudden death, including prolonged periods of inactivity during an outbreak and inadequate warming up before running, reported on Sunday.

However, Zhang suggested that schools in low-risk regions do not have to require students to wear masks while having outdoor classes in open spaces such as sports fields.

In outdoor classes, as long as students keep a social distance from each other, they should be safe even without a mask,” said Zhang.


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