Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker has criticised the Government for favouring politics ahead of science in its continued reluctance to impose a mask mandate in schools.
It comes as more than 11,000 Covid cases were announced today - but officials believe the real number to be double that.
Covid Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall today restated 10 million child-size masks would be made available for Year 4-7 students in New Zealand and up to 30,000 masks a week for all other students and school staff.
However, the Government had stopped short of imposing a mask-wearing mandate in schools.
Verrall instead pleaded with schools to utilise the free masks, saying it would make a significant difference to the spread of Covid-19.
Masks were currently required aboard public transport, in shops and at aged care facilities.
Medical-grade masks would be handed out at rapid antigen test collection sites, alongside N95s and P2s to medically vulnerable people.
Verrall acknowledged mask-use could be improved to prevent further infection of Covid-19 and other winter illnesses.
Baker, a vocal supporter of mask mandates in schools, told the Herald his email inbox was filled with "distraught" parents and teachers on the issue.
"Many people who contact me wants [a mandate] immediately," he said.
He even cited his 12-year-old daughter's experience at school where she was often the only one wearing a mask.
Baker suspected the Government's aversion to imposing further mandates on New Zealanders had trumped calls from the scientific community.
"It's almost like we're denying transmission happens at schools which is bizarre.
"I think people will look back in horror at our laissez-faire approach to this."
He did credit the work being done with businesses to encourage mask-use as a means to limit staff contracting the virus and other winter illnesses.
In today's press conference, Verrall was asked why all Kiwis hadn't been supplied surgical-grade masks, such as N95 masks.
Verrall responded by saying medical-grade masks were sufficient, noting that she wore them.
"The guidance is for most people in community settings, they are good protection and I wear a medical mask for that reason.
"We will provide N95s for those that are medically vulnerable and that will come through at our collection points shortly."
Baker cited a study released this week in the United States' Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal that found the risk of infection was reduced 75-fold if two people having a conversation - one with Covid-19 - had N95 masks on.
He also referenced the success countries with high mask-use had experienced in limiting cases and virus-related deaths, including Singapore, Japan and South Korea.
"We're not following the science here."
Baker said he would recommend use of N95-like masks when people were in poorly-ventilated, crowded environments, such as gyms or hospitality venues.
However, he did believe it was feasible to give all New Zealanders an N95 mask.