Reviews | Let the kids take off their masks after the Omicron surge

Elissa Perkins, director of infectious disease management in the emergency department at Boston Medical Center, told me she spent most o...


Elissa Perkins, director of infectious disease management in the emergency department at Boston Medical Center, told me she spent most of 2020 “implying to everyone I could in every forum I could hide “. At first, she says, it was to flatten the curve, and later to protect the vulnerable. But the masking, she said, “was intended to be a short-term intervention,” and she thinks we haven’t talked enough about the downsides of imposing it on children long-term.

“If we accept that we don’t want masks to be mandatory in our schools forever, we have to decide when is the right time to remove them,” she said. “And that’s a conversation that we don’t really have.”

At least people in deep blue areas didn’t have it until recently. But as the Omicron wave begins to recede, this conversation – sometimes half-hearted and sometimes acrimonious – has begun. This week, Perkins co-wrote a Washington Post Essay calling on schools to make masking optional. The Atlantic published a article titled“The Case Against School Masks.”

“After the Omicron surge, I think there will be a tipping point with more and more people wondering if this should continue in schools,” said Erin Bromage, associate professor of biology at the ‘University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. Bromage worked with the governor of Rhode Island to reopen schools there, and later helped schools in southern Massachusetts reopen. He believes in the importance of Covid mitigationsbut his views on school masking have evolved These last months. There comes a point, he said, “when the reduction in risk that comes from masking is balanced or starts to be offset by the detrimental side of things that come with masking.”

The school mask debate can quickly turn vicious as it pits legitimate interests against each other. Many people who are immunocompromised or living with those who are immunocompromised fear, rightly, that the removal of mandates will make them more vulnerable. But keeping kids masked month after month also inflicts damage, though it’s not always easy to measure.

“I think it would be naive not to recognize that there are downsides to masks,” Perkins said. “I know some of this data is harder to come by because these results are not as discrete as Covid or non-Covid. But speaking with pediatricians, speaking with learning specialists, and also speaking with parents of younger children in particular, there are significant issues related to language acquisition, pronunciation, etc And there are very clear social and emotional side effects in older children.

That’s why I think mandatory school masking should end when coronavirus rates return to pre-Omicron levels. I fully accept that in future flare-ups the masks may need to be put back on, but this is all the more reason to remove them as soon as possible, to give students some respite.

Otherwise, I fear that, at least in very liberal areas, a combination of extreme risk aversion and inertia will mean school masking will persist indefinitely. The superintendent of Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland recently minimized the idea of ​​a future without masks, saying: “The only exit ramp I want is the one where the Covid no longer exists. I don’t think that exit ramp will exist. I hope this attitude isn’t prevalent, but if it is, it’ll be up to progressive parents desperate for an exit ramp to push back.

One wonders how well masks at school really work; many studies are confounded, as communities with school mask mandates also tend to adopt other Covid mitigation measures. Much of The Atlantic’s “The Case Against Masks at School” is devoted to reviewing studies conducted or cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it concludes that “the overall result of these studies – that the schools with mask mandates have a lower Covid-19 transmission rate than schools without a mask mandate – is not substantiated by the data that has been collected.

Just because experts can poke holes in some masking studies doesn’t mean masks don’t make a difference. “Unfortunately it’s painted black or white, it’s like whether it works or not, but with everything, it’s a shade and there’s a gradient,” Bromage said. Cloth masks, he said, could reduce the risk of transmission from Omicron by “10% out and 10% in”. That’s no small thing, but it does suggest that the mask mandates we currently have aren’t as protective as some might think.

Better quality masks, obviously, are much more effective, which is why Los Angeles is now requiring improved masks in schools. But before other cities follow suit, we need to ask ourselves if we really want to make school mask policies even stricter at a time when vaccinations for children are widely available, just like the masks that protect the wearer even if those around them are unmasked.

Like Joseph G. Allen of Harvard wrote, “For anyone worried about moving away from universal masking, the good news is that they can continue to wear an N95 mask – while being vaccinated and boosted – and live a low-risk life, regardless of what they do. others around them.” There was a time when N95s were hard to get, but now the Biden administration has started providing them for free. And young children who cannot wear adult-sized N95s can wear KN95 and KF94.

For those of us who have been anxiously awaiting approval of vaccines for children over 5, the timing of Omicron has been particularly cruel. For almost two years, many of us told our children that once vaccinated, they could reclaim many of the ordinary joys they had had to sacrifice. Omicron has postponed this refurbishment. It should not be postponed a moment longer than necessary.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Reviews | Let the kids take off their masks after the Omicron surge
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