What do the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Singapore, France, and Germany have in common? All believe any benefits from masking children under the age of 5 are outweighed by the harm done. In fact, the WHO and UNICEF explicitly discourage masking those under 5 to preserve the “safety and overall interest of the child.”
Yet County Executive Steuart Pittman recently reinstated an indoor masking mandate for children so young they can barely pee in the potty. The County Council will be discussing Bill 6-22 today (Friday, January 7, 2022), which authorizes Pittman’s mandate for 45 days, with possible council-approved extensions.
This policy is well outside the mainstream of peer nations and clearly harms our children despite no measurable benefit for them or society. If mandated masking is back for adults, we must act morally and increase the age of required masking to at least 5-years-old.
Respected Covid chronicler David Leonhardt of the New York Times recently wrote movingly about the harm we’ve done to our children during the pandemic: “[the United States has] accepted more harm to children in exchange for less harm to adults … Given the choices that the country has made, it should not be surprising that children are suffering so much.”
What does that harm look like? Focus first on the child’s long-term development, a process I have little desire to experiment with on my own son. Toddlers have yet to master language and fewer have gleaned all the nuances of the millions of micro-facial expressions our faces broadcast daily. Can a toddler understand or be understood with a mask in our scarier-by-the-day world? Do we have any idea how this will affect them years later? Can we look at the tear-streaked cheeks of our toddlers and pre-schoolers and not wonder if it’s truly necessary for the adults to insist on masking these children?
Studies on the damage we’ve already done to toddlers and preschoolers are scant because adults have never before in history thought to force masks onto kids unable to tie their shoelaces. As Vinay Prasad, MD and Professor of Epidemiology at UC San Francisco, recently wrote in the Atlantic, “The potential educational harms of mandatory-masking policies are much more firmly established than their possible benefits in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in schools.”
Studies on whether masking toddlers reduces transmission have been done, however, and the results are clear – it does not. Again, from Dr. Prasad’s article in the Atlantic, a recent study examining the difference in transmission between kids masked in Spain (which starts at age 6) “show[s] that transmission rates, which were low among the youngest kids, steadily increased with age—rather than dropping sharply for older children subject to the face-covering requirement.
This, of course, will be even more true in America where toddlers are being masked. Per CDC recommendations, kids at preschool and daycare should wear masks for hours each day, then eat together unmasked, followed by … unmasked nap time! Upon waking, on go the masks, which seems an awful lot like trying to close the barn door after dropping a canister of napalm on it first. This policy of course assumes that the toddlers wore their masks correctly when awake and weren’t swapping water bottles, masks, and boogers when the teacher’s back was turned. A policy so contradictory must collapse on its own weight sooner or later.
Furthermore, COVID simply hasn’t been a significant threat to the life of our young. For ages 1-4, there have been 75 deaths over the last two years attributed to Covid-19, compared to about 7,000 deaths total for that age group, meaning Covid was responsible for just over 1% of deaths. Every death is a tragedy, but it’s likely that masking wouldn’t have prevented these infections to start with.
The benefits of the policy are unclear or non-existent, while the harms are self-evident. The County Council – and all of us – can’t hide behind the science. We need to take responsibility and decide whether it is right and proper to force toddlers to mask. My own gut speaks loud on this one and I know many parents who feel the same, including many that strongly support mask mandates for adults. Our kids should be able to play together and look at each other’s smiling faces. They should be able to laugh together. And hug one another. And scream at one another. And learn the million micro-expressions that make humans human. The benefits are clear, the risks of covering those millions of faces are not.
On January 7th, I urge the County Council to take one baby step toward giving our children back a normal life and move our County out of the extreme position we’re stuck in and more in line with reasonable standards of human decency and protecting our children. If the mandate must pass, don’t needlessly punish our children in the process.
Charlie Szold is a small business owner who lives in Annapolis with his wife and son.