By Edward Achorn
This has been a terrible year for America’s children. Adults have put their fears ahead of children’s interests, closing schools while other countries kept them open. Now there is even talk of canceling Halloween.
One of the saddest developments is the requirement that children wear masks in school all day. Given how unsanitary and unpleasant that is, that seems close to child abuse. It’s cruel.
I feel sorry for kids who are bound in a stifling mask all day, suffering oxygen deprivation and worse.
Young people remarkably safe
Young people are remarkably safe from COVID-19, we now know. Children are much more likely to be killed by lightning than by this disease, which focuses its horrible ferocity on old people and those with serious health problems. Fortunately, even those deaths — which spiked nationally in April — are declining.
Children are also far less likely than adults to transmit the disease.
Recent data collected by Dr. Andrew Bostom, an epidemiologist and Brown professor, offers further comfort by underscoring the safety of young people in a school setting.
Dr. Bostom looked at reports by 29 colleges and universities that have been open since August. Those institutes reported 25,941 positive tests for COVID-19. As of mid-week, NO student had been hospitalized for the disease.
Think about that.
Science and masks
Masks in school, meanwhile, seem far more about fear than science. They seem to be regarded by the public as a talismanic charm to ward off evil, but numerous studies have failed to demonstrate their efficacy outside of a hospital setting.
Dr. Bostom notes that the unreliability of masks has been known for a long time.
In 1920, Dr. W.H. Kellogg, an infectious disease expert and executive officer of the California State Board of Health, noted that the face masks pushed by the experts had failed to prevent the spread of the deadly Spanish Flu in 1918.
“The masks, contrary to expectation, were worn cheerfully and universally, and also, contrary to expectation of what should follow under such circumstances, no effect on the epidemic curve was to be seen. Something was plainly wrong with our hypotheses,” he admitted.
As Dr. Bostom notes, a century later the same is holding true with a disease that is far less lethal than the Spanish Flu. There are still no controlled studies that show masks worn by the general public work in the way experts say they do — to help prevent the spread of the disease.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gathered ten scientific studies and found that none demonstrated a significant benefit in wearing masks to reduce influenza infection. Indeed, the authors of the pooled study cautioned that using face masks improperly might “increase the risk for infection.”
The New England Journal of Medicine, just this April, reported there was “scant evidence” that mask-wearing “does anything to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.” It pointed to the effect being purely psychological.
“The chance of catching COVID-19 from a passing interaction in a public space is therefore minimal. In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic,” it wrote.
Some thoughtful Americans are worried that mask-wearing may have a political component. Masks are a potent symbol of fear, and fear keeps the public compliant and politicians powerful.
Parents are concerned
Some parents are horrified that their children must suffer in masks all day because of this genuflection to fear. They note that, kids being kids, such masks can become filthy and make children less safe. Take a look at this photo of a child’s mask posted on Twitter.
Somebody named Glasgow Girl wrote: “A friend posted this online. This is the mask of a child after 3 hours of use. If you are pro-mask take a good look at this. Your child is going to get very sick very soon and it won’t be with corona. It will be pleurisy. Parents take note.”
Other precautions — keeping sick kids home, frequent hand-washing — seem far likelier to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
To get through COVID-19 without causing excessive damage to our society and our fellow Americans, we would have to resist groundless fear. Unfortunately, we live in a hyper-partisan age. This disease has been exploited to topple incumbent office-holders and many in the media are hellbent on advancing a panic narrative. People have become scared.
Consider the advice of the late Dr. D.A. Henderson, who was one of America’s greatest public health stewards. He spearheaded the successful global campaign to eradicate the far deadlier virus of smallpox. No one is more authoritative on epidemics.
He wrote these thoughtful and humane words in 2006, long before COVID-19:
“Experience has shown that communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted. Strong political and public health leadership to provide reassurance and to ensure that needed medical care services are provided are critical elements. If either is seen to be less than optimal, a manageable epidemic could move toward catastrophe.”
I wish we had listened.
(Read Edward Achorn’s books about American history.)