by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
When I found out that our local school district would begin the school year with staff and students in masks — again — I asked what measurement they were using to determine when this mandate could be relaxed.
When I was told that there was no such metric, I responded to the man on the other end of the phone that at that moment, I was standing in a country, Ireland, where children under 13 never wore masks in schools — health authorities there, who had otherwise been quite strict and overly authoritarian about COVID in my view, recommended against masking young children at all. In fact, I told him, Ireland seemed to be doing the exact opposite of the U.S. where masks were concerned: Irish adults continued to mask in most indoor spaces, but children never did. He sighed, and noted that our own public-health authorities hadn’t been so consistent on the mask question themselves. He was just following orders.
Moments later, I got an email from a second-grade teacher saying that the only thing missing from her classroom was the smiles of her incoming class of students. She didn’t realize how bitterly ironic this would sound, given the district’s mask mandate.
Let’s be absolutely clear about this: No data could convince schools to unmask young students. We know as much because no data inform or support the current CDC recommendation that children over two years old be masked in schools.
To the contrary, the CDC’s own large-scale study of masks and ventilation improvements in Georgia elementary schools showed that the lower incidence of COVID infection there “was not statistically significant compared with schools where mask use was optional.” The big differences in spread were found to come from improving school ventilation. Another study of Florida implied that school districts that only mandated masking by teachers still found success in limiting transmission of SARS-CoV-2.