As schools reopen, the cultural wars are heating up over children wearing masks. The CDC guidelines call for masks for children over two years, even older children who have been vaccinated. Is this really necessary? Is it actually harmful?
The rise of the Delta variant of Covid-19 is being used as justification for the CDC rolling back previous advice that the vaccinated didn’t have to wear masks. Now it’s being used as an excuse to keep children wearing masks in school. What does the science say?
Drs. Marty Makary and H. Cody Meissner give us their opinions in The Wall Street Journal. Dr. Makary is professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Dr. Meissner is chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Tufts Children’s Hospital. These two highly qualified physicians say there is no science to support the CDC recommendations.
In fact, they report only one retrospective study even has addressed the question of whether masks reduce Covid transmission in children – and the results were inconclusive. In other words, the CDC recommendations are based on the theory that masks can’t do any harm. The authors strongly reject this theory.
They report the following mask-related harmful effects in children:
- Children with myopia have difficulty seeing due to fogging of their glasses
- Severe acne and other skin problems
- Distraction from learning due to mask discomfort
- Increased levels of carbon dioxide from airway resistance and rebreathing
- Lowered levels of oxygen for the same reasons
- Masks can be vectors for pathogens if they become moist or are used too long
Ireland’s Department of Health recently announced it won’t require masks in schools because they “may exacerbate anxiety or breathing difficulties for some students.” Some children compensate for such difficulties by breathing through their mouths. Chronic and prolonged mouth breathing can alter facial development. It is well-documented that children who mouth-breathe because of enlarged adenoids can develop a mouth deformity and elongated face.
More important is the possible psychological harm of widespread masking. Facial expressions are integral to human connection, particularly for young children, who are only learning how to signal fear, confusion, and happiness. Covering a child’s face mutes these nonverbal forms of communication and may result in robotic and emotionless interactions, anxiety and depression. These problems are multiplied in children with hearing impairment.
How many children are actually being infected with Covid?
All of this discussion about wearing masks is based on the concern of children catching or spreading the Covid virus. How high are the risks of that happening? The CDC reports for the week of July 31 that the rate of hospitalization with Covid for children ages 5 to 17 was 0.5 per million, or roughly 25 patients. The CDC even admits that not all of these children were actually hospitalized for Covid – viral testing is routine for all admissions.
Do children spread the virus to others?
A North Carolina study conducted before vaccines were available found not a single case of student-to-teacher transmission when 90,000 students were in school. Although the more contagious Delta variant has become more widespread since that study, many teachers, parents, and children over age 12 have since been vaccinated.
The authors say that if masks do reduce asymptomatic transmission in children, they likely rank no higher than fourth among mitigation strategies that schools can adopt, after ventilation, distancing, and dividing students into small groups known as pods. They also recommend mandatory vaccination of all teachers and other adults who lack natural immunity (have previously had Covid) – which teachers unions have vigorously opposed.
What recommendations do the authors provide?
Here is their summation statement: “Any child who wants to wear a mask should be free to do so. But forcing them to make personal, health and developmental sacrifices for the sake of adults who refuse to get immunized is abusive. Before we order the masking of 56 million Americans who are too young to vote and don’t have a lobby, let’s see data showing the benefits and weigh them against the long-term harm.”
Makes good sense to me – both for children and adults.