Political Editors / August 9, 2021

In Brief: The Case Against Masks for Kids

Two esteemed doctors give numerous reasons why masks for kids are ineffective and a bad idea.

With the school season just around the corner and the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant striking fear into the hearts of Beltway bureaucrats, the CDC announced two weeks ago that our nation’s 56 million children and adolescents should start wearing masks regardless of whether they’re vaccinated and regardless of whether infection levels within their community are high. And they seems to be justifying that decree on the belief that masks don’t do any harm.

But the science on whether mask-wearing helps prevent transmission among kids is both weak and inconclusive. As two esteemed doctors write in the Wall Street Journal:

Some children are fine wearing a mask, but others struggle. Those who have myopia can have difficulty seeing because the mask fogs their glasses. (This has long been a problem for medical students in the operating room.) Masks can cause severe acne and other skin problems. The discomfort of a mask distracts some children from learning. By increasing airway resistance during exhalation, masks can lead to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. And masks can be vectors for pathogens if they become moist or are used for too long.

In March, Ireland’s Department of Health announced that 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 adenoids block their nasal airways can develop a mouth deformity and elongated face.

But those are just the physical effects. What about the potential emotional damage? As Johns Hopkins School of Medicine professor Dr. Marty Makary and Tufts Children’s Hospital chief of pediatric infectious diseases Dr. H. Cody Meissner write:

The possible psychological harm of widespread masking is an even greater worry. 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 can result in robotic and emotionless interactions, anxiety and depression. Seeing people speak is a building block of phonetic development. It is especially important for children with disabilities such as hearing impairment.

In sum, Makary and Meissner write, “The adverse developmental effects of requiring masks for a few weeks are probably minor. We can’t say that with any confidence when the practice stretches on for months or years.”

Makary and Meissner also note that children transmit COVID far less often than adults do, and they cite a North Carolina study in which not a single case of student-to-teacher transmission occurred among a test group of 90,000 students. As for the masks themselves, they stress that the CDC’s mask decrees “are perversely permissive as well as needlessly strict.” They add, “Cloth masks aren’t nearly as effective as N95 respirators, but the CDC directives ignore the distinction.”

Those with a Wall Street Journal subscription can read the whole thing here.

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