Newly sworn-in New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is wasting no time taking sides in the school mask wars. Even before taking the top job, she told NBC’s “Today” that she intends to mandate masks for all public school students in the state.
She’s got President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party on her side, but the science is against her. There are no studies that demonstrate forcing young kids to wear masks reduces the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
Mandating masks also ignores the fundamental fact that not all masks are created equal. That should be the basis for a truce in the mask wars breaking out all over the nation. Mandates that settle for cloth masks with cartoon characters on them are a joke.
Most of the masks kids are wearing are laughably ineffective. A cloth mask blocks only 3% of viral particles from reaching the wearer, according to a study in the British Medical Journal. For such a minuscule difference, who would force kids to struggle with masks all day?
Instead of mandating masks, school districts should hand out effective masks, such as N95 or KN95 masks, at the beginning of the school day to kids whose parents request them. These masks block 95% of incoming viral particles. The masks were in short supply at the beginning of the pandemic, but no longer.
Flat surgical masks made from nonwoven polypropylene would be an improvement over what most kids wear. They block out 56% of virus particles, according to the same British study. But note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns a surgical mask “does NOT provide the wearer with a reliable level of protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles and is not considered respiratory protection” in a health care setting.
Helping families who favor masking is smarter than producing classrooms full of kids with soiled, ineffective masks and many outraged parents.
The delta variant accounts for 98% of U.S. cases now and appears to be more dangerous to children. But would masks at school make a difference?
Not according to a CDC study of 169 Georgia elementary schools last winter. CDC researchers found that schools requiring staff and teachers to mask up had 37% fewer cases of COVID, and schools that improved air quality and ventilation had 39% fewer cases. Those approaches work. But mandating that students wear masks had no statistically significant impact on the spread of COVID. Mandating masks and letting masks be optional produced the same results. Not surprising considering the kinds of masks most kids wear.
Yet a week after releasing the Georgia study, the agency reversed course and recommended universal masking in school without offering new findings to justify that 180-degree flip. Perhaps the agency looked at the rising cases among children and panicked.
No surprise. Over the course of the pandemic, the CDC has earned a reputation as the “Centers for Disease Confusion.” The agency should have been guided by its own research.
Instead, it kowtowed to political correctness. Only a minority of Republicans support mandating masks, while 92% of Democrats agree, according to an Aug. 17 Axios/Ipsos poll.
Ten states — mostly blue states like Connecticut, New Jersey and California — mandate masks. Other states leave it up to local school boards. And eight red states, including Florida, ban local school boards from mandating masks, insisting parents get to decide.
Last week, Biden escalated the mask wars by threatening federal Department of Education lawsuits against the seven states. The New York Times followed with a full-throated endorsement of Biden’s maneuver, calling mandatory masking a “common-sense public health” policy.
Sorry. The science doesn’t support it.
Hochul argues that the New York Health Department has the authority to require masking in the state. According to the letter of the law, she’s right. But the Health Department has lost credibility after forcing nursing homes to take in COVID-positive patients and covering up the deadly results. The Health Department can’t be trusted.
Instead, Hochul should put parents in charge and provide effective masks for families who want them.
That’s good advice for governors in every state. Mandating masks that don’t work is a farce.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York and author of “The Next Pandemic,” available at Amazon.com. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @Betsy_McCaughey. To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.