Former acting CDC director sounds off on consequences of masking children in schools: ‘The costs are real’

Former Acting CDC Director Dr. Richard Besser responded Tuesday to the disagreement between the CDC and various states over their decisions to end indoor mask mandates by admitting that the costs associated with requiring children to wear a mask while in school were “real.”

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky spoke out against the relaxing of masking measures in schools earlier in the day, telling Reuters that “now is not the moment” to end the measures, and arguing places across the country with a high coronavirus transmission rate justified mandates remaining in effect.

During an appearance on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” Besser argued that although masking was important if the level of hospitalizations in a given area were high, measures needed to be balanced with the potential costs to children when it came to their actual learning in schools, as well as their mental health.

Acting Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Richard Besser (R) makes remarks to the media as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano listens during a briefing on possible U.S. emergency measures in the event of a swine flu outbreak, in Washington April 26, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

Acting Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Richard Besser (R) makes remarks to the media as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano listens during a briefing on possible U.S. emergency measures in the event of a swine flu outbreak, in Washington April 26, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Theiler
( REUTERS/Mike Theiler)

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“The four states that you lifted up were hit very early and very hard by omicron, and are now seeing pretty dramatic declines. Declines in cases, declines in hospitalization. And there’s a desire to try and get to a more normal life,” Besser said after fill-in host John Berman asked what he thought about Walensky being at odds with those states. 

“As a pediatrician, there are a couple of things that I keep in mind. One is the desire to reduce as much as possible the burden from omicron. And thankfully, young children are at the lowest risk for severe infection for hospitalization and for death,” he added. They’re not at zero risk, but they’re at very low risk. But you have to balance the measures that we’re asking children and families to do to prevent omicron against some of those costs. And the costs are real.” 

FILE - Masked students wait to be taken to their classrooms at Enrique S. Camarena Elementary School, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in Chula Vista, Calif. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

FILE – Masked students wait to be taken to their classrooms at Enrique S. Camarena Elementary School, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in Chula Vista, Calif. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)
(AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

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Besser noted that there were mental health costs associated with long-term masking for children, which included the need for them to no longer be afraid to be in contact with each other. He also noted that masks were causing children to have difficulties learning in school, and specifically pointed to those trying to learn a new language. 

“These things are real, and I think that the balance that states and localities are trying to make between reducing COVID as low as possible, but also trying to get children back to being able to be children, that’s what we’re seeing play out now. And hopefully we’ll learn from states that are doing different things in different places and that will help guide other states that are trying to make the same decisions,” he said. 

Rochelle Walensky, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022. Photographer: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022. Photographer: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images
(Photographer: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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New York was the latest state to announce it would be ending its indoor mask mandate, joining other Democratic-led states Tuesday in making the decision to drop the controversial measure. Other states ending their mandates include New Jersey, Oregon, and Connecticut. 

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