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Last week liberals entered full panic mode after the recently sworn-in governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, issued an executive order ending compulsory universal school masking in elementary schools. Youngkin was accused of “catering to selfish parents” by a Washington Post op-ed. Another opinion piece at the WaPo said Youngkin was “putting the health and education of our children at risk to satisfy his political base.” There are only two small issues with their talking points: compulsory school masking is not only backed by contested science but it is something that the rest of the developed world is not doing.
Despite the attacks on Youngkin, the pushback against universal masking in schools is already reaching the liberal opinion elites. The Atlantic published a lengthy article penned by three public health experts destroying the alleged scientific consensus over masks in schools, the New York Times published an article by Michelle Goldberg demanding a complete stop of face masks on children. Even NPR (hardly a conservative outlet) published an article by Anya Kamenetz against school masking. In just a few days, Youngkin’s position went from fringe conspiracy theory to a legitimate option being discussed in liberal media.
It appears liberals are finally finding out what not only conservatives have been arguing for weeks, but what other developed countries have known for months. Masking kids under 12 years of age is not only ineffective, but it also hurts them.
The United States is the outlier in school mask mandates
The Democratic Party and many liberal opinion leaders love to compare the United States’ healthcare system or educational policies to Nordic or European countries. How many times have we not heard that Sweden or Norway are the progressive paradises we should all strive for, or that the cool-headed rational-decision making of the EU is something to be desired. Since masking in schools effectively talks about both education and health policy, let us indulge in one of the favorite pastimes of the American left and compare U.S. policy with European ones.
The Center for Disease Control, on their official website, has a recommendation of “universal indoor masking by all students (ages 2 years and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.” Although the CDC suggestion does not carry the force of law, more than half of the school boards (55%) have a compulsory masking policy for students, staff, and teachers.
A lot of European countries, however, do not agree with the CDC universal guideline. For example, Norway and Sweden—always used by progressives like Bernie as shining cities in the hill—do not require students to use masks while at school, and most of the schools in the United Kingdom did not use masks during the Delta wave.
In fact, the European CDC gives extremely different advice than the American CDC. It says that in school settings, it is extremely hard to ensure students under 12 years correctly wear masks and that in primary schools while the use of masks is recommended for teachers, it explicitly advises not to force that measure on the students themselves.
These are not the health departments of third-world countries with a significantly smaller scientific community than the U.S., we are talking about first-world countries that are openly contradicting the universalist recommendation of the CDC. It is interesting how Democrats constantly bring Nordic Europe when criticizing American health policy, they appear to forget Norway even exists when discussing COVID.
The science behind universal school masking is sketchy, at best
Most importantly, the CDC guideline is simply not backed by irrefutable scientific evidence. The Department of Education had defended its wide-ranging masking policy in three non-peer-reviewed studies last year. The Atlantic op-ed made compelling arguments, just like an article at El American written months ago, destroying those studies: one was done before vaccines were widely available, another did not quantify the size of the COVID outbreaks it studied, and the other did not control for different vaccination rates.
In fact, studies have shown masking kids is not really that useful at all. A recent study made in the UK, which analyzed data from 123 schools in Britain showed there is inconclusive evidence that imposing a masking mandate for kids has a statistically significant impact on reducing the levels of COVID transmission. The data showed schools with the mandates had a 2.3% drop in new cases, while schools without masking had a 1.7% drop, only a 0.6% difference between both.
While the scientific backing for the effectiveness of universal school masking against COVID is contested (to say the least), the scientific evidence studying the negative effects of masking children is piling up, and it has some very ominous results. Studies in Italy, and Greece show that masks are a barrier to communication, as children are not able to understand facial expressions easily, and other academic paper showed masks affect the language and speech development of kids, especially of kids who don’t speak English at home, and they are also terrible for kids with disabilities. Masking hurts not only kids but also minority and disabled ones.
Universal school masking goes against science, and common-sense
It is not only science that goes against universal school masking but common sense as well. Is it really logical to think that kids between 2 and 12 years of age are going to properly use a mask all day long? If continuously using a mask is difficult for full-grown adults, how do you think a toddler can deal with it?
Furthermore, recent studies have shown cloth masks are practically useless against Omicron and that only the extremely uncomfortable and not-child friendly K95 might be useful against the new strain. If kids are having a terrible time with cloth masks, do we really expect them to use the airtight K95 masks?
This is where a rational, benefit-risk analysis needs to be done: masking children have (at best) a very marginal role at reducing the spread of COVID, yet they have very real negative consequences on children’s ability to develop communication skills and make their lives at school miserable.
Does this look like a rational decision? Are we going to force kids into a future of continuous mask-wearing based on cherry-picked scientific studies?
Masking children is not based on science, nor is it tailored for the well-being of students. It is part of the ongoing COVID theater that some people on the left want to live in. Is fine if grown adults want to eternally live in a fear-based approach to COVID but, as usual in politics, do not get the kids into this.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.