The debate continues: Does science support masking in schools?

As parents and school leadership butt heads over school mask mandates, “some physicians and scientists have recently claimed that the best evidence shows that masks are not an effective measure against the coronavirus, that the risk of the virus to children is small, and that masks can have a substantial downside for children,” reports the Washington Examiner.

[Dr. Jay] Bhattacharya [a professor of medicine at Stanford University] and Neera Sood, a public policy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, recently laid out their case against masks in schools in the Orange County Register, writing that “the onus is on proponents to show that the benefits of masking kids outweigh the costs.”

Bhattacharya continued by pointing out the potential developmental harm masking children could create.

“From early in the pandemic, it was very clear that the risk to young people is very small. The number of children who died from COVID in 2020 was less than died from the flu,” said Bhattacharya. He also noted that masks can cause problems for children with learning and emotional development.

“For children, especially young children, masks can cause problems in basic developmental things, in learning of emotions and language acquisition,” said Bhattacharya.

The ability to recognize smiles and frowns is crucial to children’s emotional development, something that becomes next to impossible when wearing a mask. One recent study found that children under 8 confused the correct emotion with other emotions more often when masks were worn. The confusion was particularly pronounced for those ages 3 to 5.

Bhattacharya also said that mask studies with randomized controlled trials struggle to provide evidence that masks contribute to stopping the spread of viruses.

In one such study in Denmark, researchers randomly assigned volunteers to wear masks or not for up to two months. It found no significant difference in COVID-19 infections among those who did not wear masks versus those who did.

Thirteen states are requiring staff and students to wear masks in schools for the 2021 school year. Thirty states (including Minnesota) have left school mask decisions up to local authorities. Seven states — Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah — have banned school mask requirements.