With news that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has once again updated its safety recommendations for in-person school, I’m taking a breath, observing my emotions without judgment, and wondering why I’m so upset at the prospect of my three elementary-age children returning, masked, to school.
As a society, we’ve adjusted many practical behaviors as we’ve learned more about COVID-19. However, on the emotional side, there’s a lot we’re still learning — which is understandable. We’ve never done this before! Notably, we still need to work on managing anxiety and weighing risk realistically. Nowhere is this more glaring than in making decisions about children and school.
Education stakeholders have come to the consensus, albeit haltingly, that children ought to be at school in person. However, in many states and local districts, the prevailing condition attached to returning to school buildings, urged by the CDC, is to mask everyone up — at minimum, children under age 12 who aren’t vaccine eligible.
I’ve become convinced that the collective commitment to mask-wearing for children is based on little more than helping adults feel better. With effective vaccines, parents no longer need to worry about themselves or the elderly with the laser focus we did earlier in the pandemic. As a result, many of us have shifted all that worry-energy on to monitoring our children’s health.
Parents in my Northern Virginia neighborhood who weren’t masking their children in October 2020, when cases were rising and no one was vaccinated, are now serious enforcers — when case counts in our city have bottomed out, and vaccination rates are high. If we’re following numbers and science, a message relentlessly pounded into our collective psyche, let’s check the data and think through whether masking children is helpful or necessary.
What we know: COVID-19 isn’t a serious threat to children.
For confirmation, we can look to the New York Times’s David Leonhardt’s recent list of several “facts that are clear” about COVID-19 and the delta variant, including: “Among children under 12, who remain ineligible for the vaccine, serious forms of Covid are also extremely rare. Children face bigger risks when they ride in a car.”
Like most people, I don’t comprehend large numbers readily — don’t talk to me about real estate or Jeff Bezos — so the comparison to car travel feels helpful. To put the statistics into another accessible format, children remain at lower risk than vaccinated adults, and while many folks are keeping an eye out for delta variant breakthrough infections, we’re largely agreed that vaccinated adults are protected from death and serious illness.
What we don’t know: Even with negligible risk, many vaccinated adults continue to feel more comfortable wearing a mask. Whether parents mask children to protect the wearers or those around them (or to slow community spread or to “do the right thing”), it’s not clear that children’s masking accomplishes those objectives.
Let’s assume, though, that masks are indeed quite effective in protecting people around the wearer. This leads us back to risk assessment and vaccines. The people surrounding children at school are 1) other school children, who have the smallest likelihood of a complicated COVID-19 experience, and 2) teachers and school personnel, who were among the first in line to be inoculated.
Is the cost of extended masking for an entire generation of school children worth the benefit of perhaps providing a sliver of extra protection to people who don’t actually need it? That’s the question we should ask. (For the record: I’m grateful that my state offers an online public option that families can opt into if they have children with preexisting conditions or other reasons to remain hypervigilant or simply prefer virtual school.)
Countries such as Great Britain, with comparable vaccine rates and more stringent lockdown and quarantine policies than the United States, aren’t implementing a mask mandate for school children this fall, having judged that the developmental harm inherent in such a policy outweighs any demonstrable benefit.
Beyond the academic, economic, and developmental damage (any speech therapist would report: My son needs to see the kindergarten teacher’s face!), we’re only beginning to learn about the adverse psychological and emotional effects of school closures and extended mask use among children.
What’s misleading: feelings over data.
Many parents don’t see it that way. Just last week, a parent friend said of masking that “kids can handle it!”
I agree — children are resilient and amazing, and they’ll adjust to whatever is thrown at them. I cried watching the opening of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe movie with my children recently, as parents evacuated children onto countryside-bound trains to escape the danger of the Battle of Britain. Why do I feel like the Greatest Generation sacrificed themselves to mitigate the effects of a worldwide catastrophe on their children while we’re doing the opposite?
Of course, no one consciously tries to create an unhealthy environment. We’re operating from an understandable and noble impulse: to protect the most vulnerable among us, our children. Many families will choose to mask, simply on the chance and hope that it keeps people a little bit safer. Having said that, we ought to attempt to account for the unintended damage, which, like lockdowns and virtual school, disproportionately affect at-risk populations. But what we certainly shouldn’t do is mandate masks for children when the data isn’t there.
Josie Ortega is a writer and a mother of three school-aged children living in Alexandria, Virginia.
Author : Josie Ortega
Source : Washington Examiner : Don’t make the mask mistake with children