A flood of recent news articles and opinion pieces at mainstream and progressive outlets have aggressively questioned the policy of universal masking in schools.
What was once media orthodoxy – and is still recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – has gotten a surge of media pushback, with authors calling for removing masks entirely from schools or at least generating a plan to end their mandated use once the omicron variant of coronavirus abates.
About two-thirds of school districts nationwide still requiring masks in schools as the pandemic enters its third year, according to NPR. The twin issues of coronavirus mitigation and education combine in the explosive debate that continues to make headlines around the country, such as in Virginia with Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s recent executive order ending school mask mandates.
And the push to find a way to start taking the masks off is trickling into liberal media outlets.
“After 2 years, growing calls to take masks off children in school,” NPR reported Friday, highlighting a mother of two young children in Silver Spring, Md., who said her belief in making masks optional left her isolated.
“As soon as you question, ‘Is it a good idea to put a 2-year-old in a mask all day?’ you’re suddenly a psychotic, anti-vax right-winger,” Kerry Dingle told the outlet. “Which really couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Dingle’s three-year-old, she said, has to wear a mask at his preschool but it becomes wet within minutes of him wearing it when he inevitably sucks and chews on it. Her six-year-old gets in trouble at school because his facial tics make it difficult to wear his mask properly, she said.
NPR quoted opposing voices who said they’re still necessary amid the omicron variant, but noted the drawbacks of masking in schools, including development issues, emotional bonding problems, communication disruptions in class, and an observed upswing in speech delays. Cloth masks, experts have widely recognized, do little to nothing to prevent the spread of the disease. Children, especially younger ones, can’t be relied upon to properly wear a mask all day, and they also continue to be at minimal risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.
“Most studies show that school transmission is not dramatically affected by mask mandates, but is primarily driven by community transmission rates. If community transmission rates are high, there is more school transmission, and vice versa. Furthermore, transmission from children to adults, even with high community viral rates, is very low,” Dr. Pradheep Shanker, a radiologist who focuses on health policy, told Fox News Digital.
The NPR story was the latest in a recent spate of pieces calling for off-ramps from mask mandates in schools.
A piece from three physicians in the Washington Post this week called for making masks optional in schools, saying it was time to give children “their childhood back” and encourage N95 masks that protect any wearers.
“We urge public health and school officials to educate communities on one-way masking, emphasizing personal choice regarding self-protection and supporting those who choose to remain masked,” they wrote. “It’s time we stopped worrying about what others are doing and started focusing on protecting ourselves.”
Another piece this week in The Atlantic by a trio of doctors argued that studies had failed to bolster the notion that schools with mask mandates had lower community spread than those without them.
“We reviewed a variety of studies—some conducted by the CDC itself, some cited by the CDC as evidence of masking effectiveness in a school setting, and others touted by media to the same end—to try to find evidence that would justify the CDC’s no-end-in-sight mask guidance for the very-low-risk pediatric population, particularly post-vaccination. We came up empty-handed,” they wrote.
They concluded the lack of data on the long-term negative effects of masking – they also highlighted learning issues for cognitive-delayed students and emotion recognition problems – violated the hallowed medical standard of “first, do no harm.”
“I think more pediatricians daily are recognizing that there is a societal cost to mask mandates for young children,” Shanker said.
Several New York-based figures are also expressing more opposition to masking policies. Journalist Bari Weiss said last week on Bill Maher’s “Real Time” program that coronavirus restrictions would be viewed as a “catastrophic moral crime” by the younger generation. She received considerable liberal media pushback – CNN anchor Jim Acosta said her comments were akin to “trolling.”
Liberal New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg was among the many figures to respond to Weiss and was critical of the notion of being “over” COVID, but Goldberg wrote Friday it was time for a “reprieve” from masks for kids.
“Otherwise, I fear that, at least in very liberal areas, a combination of extreme risk aversion and inertia means that school masking will persist indefinitely,” Goldberg wrote.
In Goldberg’s home state, though, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, D., has compared compelling children to wear masks to her own youngster having to wear sneakers, saying children are adaptable.
Brooklyn-based journalist Jennifer Block was critical of the notion that the liberal pet issue of “equity” had been tied up with coronavirus measures; a theme across recent coverage has been writers acknowledging progressive pressures to continue to take strenuous measures to prevent COVID-19, including masks in schools.
“The goal of ‘ending COVID’ was once laudable, but at this point it’s driven by a mixture of naivete, hubris and entitlement,” she wrote. “We can all be furious and devastated by the death and illness this virus is still causing, but we can’t misread people’s desire for normal as indicating callous disregard for human life. One of the first rules of parenting is to never take out your own anger on your children. That’s what turns us into monsters.”
Where the debate goes from here remains unclear, as future variants could send school districts and state legislatures scrambling again to find any way to keep schools open. In addition to the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics continues to support masking all children over the age of 2, including in its updated guidance released Friday.
Vanderbilt University professor of critical care Dr. Wes Ely told Fox News Digital it’s not the time to back off masking in schools, saying the combination of that with distancing and vaccines remains the best way to end the pandemic for good.
“That’s the best way to do it,” he said. The bigger [the] force field you put up front of masking and vaccinations … All this half-ass stuff just propagates the problem.”
Dr. Vinay Prasad’s recent Tablet article criticized the “cultlike behavior” of mandating masks despite the availability of vaccines for children ages 5 and up. He argued on Twitter on Friday that the AAP was losing its credibility for maintaining its masking stance.
Shanker said masks have marginal benefits and had his 11- and 16-year-olds wear them at the outset of the pandemic, but doesn’t recommend them for younger kids and opposes mandates at this point.
“Maybe that changes if we get a new variant that attacks kids, or is even more virulent than Omicron,” he told Fox News Digital. “But as of right now, we are not seeing huge superspreader events in schools even in mask-free districts. It really is a non-issue at this point. If you want to wear one, you absolutely should, and schools should applaud that freedom of choice. But otherwise, get vaccinated, and go about your life.”