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On masks for toddlers, U.S. stands alone

On masks for toddlers, U.S. stands alone 1

FORT WORTH, Texas — When I called to schedule an annual well-check appointment for my son, I was told that he would need to wear a mask in the office.

He just turned 2, I explained, and is at home with me all day. Not only is he not accustomed to wearing a mask, I doubt very much he is developmentally capable of wearing one for more than five seconds.

Sometimes, I can’t even get him to wear pants.

I won’t force the mask on him. And since the waiting room is closed and he would interact only with the masked and presumably vaccinated nurse and doctor, who exactly would he be potentially exposing?

“Well, he needs to wear one if he’s going to see the doctor,” came the reply.

The exchange encapsulated everything that’s wrong with current public-health guidance when it comes to children — in practical, scientific and moral terms.

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By now, we’ve all seen the disturbing videos of caregivers trying (unsuccessfully) to mask screaming toddlers at daycare centers or of exasperated parents desperately trying to cajole tantrum-throwing 2-year-olds to wear masks on planes.

These incidents cause undue stress on children and parents who are generally doing their best to comply with policies that have been designed by and for adults with little consideration about what is best for the kids involved.

And our nation stands alone when it comes to many of these draconian practices.

Perhaps parents don’t know that in most European countries, for example, schoolchildren are not required to cover their faces in order to participate in normal activities.

In Britain, even during the delta surge, masking young kids at school was expressly not part of the viral containment strategy. And masks were required only for discrete periods in secondary schools.

In France, only children 6 and older were required to wear masks when the school year began last month.

Public-health authorities in Norway do not recommend the use of face masks on children younger than 12, and they even caution that testing not be “performed in a way that is perceived as traumatic for the child.”

Some foreign airlines, such as Aer Lingus, include mask exemptions for young children who are not capable of wearing one.

Even the World Health Organization says that children 5 and younger should not be required to mask and recommends the masking of kids ages 6-11 only under certain circumstances, such as the child being in an environment with high-risk individuals.

These reasonable health policies aren’t the consequence of public health officials capitulating to angry parents or politicians. They’re based on studies and data which show that children are neither highly susceptible to severe COVID-19 illness nor particularly strong transmitters of the virus.

They also take into account that children are not merely small adults but have explicit social and developmental priorities that should be considered when formulating any public health policy, especially those policies that affect their individual health, well-being and growth. Preventing the spread of disease isn’t the only consideration, after all, and given kids’ low-risk from COVID, balancing other potentially harmful outcomes should take priority.

Further, any insistence that small children be masked to protect adults should raise questions about the competence of the vaccines. If the vaccines are effective and widely employed, what risk could an unmasked 2-year-old possibly pose?

These are distinctions that shouldn’t be difficult for health care providers to appreciate.

Yet they usually accept the guidance of U.S. health authorities even when it ignores science, needlessly instills fear, and wrongly assumes that there are no trade-offs between viral containment and other deleterious outcomes for our kids.

On its website, the American Academy of Pediatrics contends that face masks “can be safely worn” by children 2 and older with rare exception.

Any mother would tell her child that just because someone can do something, it does not mean they should.

Toddlers should not be required to wear masks — anywhere. And more parents should start saying so.

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