‘Give them their childhood back’: Is WaPo medical op-ed right about optional masks for schools?


Fact Box

  • On January 25, 2022, in a Washington Post (WaPo) op-ed, three doctors advised schools to allow for optional mask-wearing given the CDC’s new mask guidelines, saying, “Our children have sacrificed a lot to protect us [...] Now it’s time for us to give them their childhood back.” 
  • On January 14, 2022, the CDC released updated guidelines regarding masks, clarifying that “loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection,” while KN95s and N95s offer the “highest level of protection.”
  • An August 2021 Gallup poll found that 48% of K-12 parents say students should be required to wear masks, while 41% say no students should wear masks. 
  • On October 19, 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a declaration of national emergency in child and adolescent health after witnessing mental health emergencies from the COVID pandemic. They noted “soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality.”

Siam (No)

The topic of masks in schools has created tremendous tension among parents, staff, and healthcare workers, seemingly becoming more and more political. WaPo's op-ed from 'medical experts' suggesting masks wearing in school should be optional certainly has not helped defuse society's disagreement on this. 

First, there is solid evidence that wearing masks in public places has reduced the spread of coronavirus, leading many to believe it had helped contain the virus before the vaccines were available. And with the increase in aggressive COVID variants, face masks can definitely mitigate the effects of these dangerous strains.

Likewise, COVID and its variants do not always present with symptoms. But even during the asymptomatic stage, the infection can be transmitted to others. And the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, which can lead to infections in other children, staff, and employees resulting in additional school closures from severe staff shortages. Plus, there is the added risk of infected children also infecting the parents and caregivers, which results in isolation and absenteeism from the workplace, compounding the worker shortages we already have.

The vaccination rates in children also vary between 12-60%, leaving a significant number of children unprotected. Multiple layers of protection are needed to help fight COVID and enact prevention, and in the absence of vaccination, the only other option is masking. Finally, face masks are easy to use and cheap; they are the most straightforward method of beating this pandemic.

Masks have not been shown to be harmful, and while they can feel uncomfortable and compromise learning in some children, the risks of getting infected may mean hospitalization and huge medical bills. There is no argument of which choice is better—wear a mask. 

Curtice (Yes)

Three infectious disease professionals penned a recent op-ed in the Washington Post arguing for an end to mask mandates in schools. Common sense is finally entering more and more COVID-19 discussions ever so slowly, and after two years of panic and fear-mongering, it's about time.

The Tufts Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, and Boston Medical Center doctors advocated masking primarily as self-protection. They noted that the N95 masks are more protective than surgical or cloth masks, but they further stated that the N95 masks protect the wearer and it, therefore, makes the COVID-19 refrain 'my mask protects you' outmoded.

As demonstrated, cloth masks, in particular, do little to protect either the person wearing the mask or anyone nearby. It is time, the doctors argue, to emphasize personal choice regarding self-protection. This is something that Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin certainly emphasized when he recently announced his executive order eliminating mask mandates in Virginia schools. Some school districts have pushed back and are now suing the governor, as well as outright ignoring his executive order. 

The doctors who wrote the op-ed further stated, correctly, that strict masking regulations have come at a steep cost for children. Learning and development have suffered, and they can create other health problems.

Aggressive mask policies also send the message to kids, parents, and school staff that schools aren't safe. It's time we stop scaring kids and their parents. Life is not risk-free. If a parent is concerned about their child in school, have them wear a mask—a proper N95 mask. But it's not right to force it on everyone else. We can be happy that common sense is starting to make a comeback.

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