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Masking Children in the Name of Protection: The Dangers of Prolonged Use

SUMMARY: Since 2020, when COVID-19 kicked off a flurry of rules in the name of public health, masking everyone—including young children—has been painted by authorities as a commonsense, risk-free measure to prevent the spread of infection among society. However, we must consider the downsides to concealing a major portion of children’s faces—especially when they’re prone to nearly zero risk of serious illness.

By Rick Rydell

When schools around the nation began rolling out mask mandates for in-person schooling, questions from parents and caregivers naturally followed: Were masks safe to force on your child(ren)? Would it inhibit communication among friends or educators? Would wearing a foreign object on the face of a squirmy, germy elementary schooler even work, especially among those with special needs?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other authority figures were quick to answer, at least in part: Masks should be slapped on all school-going children for every non-eating minute of the school day. CDC Director, Rochelle Walensky, had this to say in fall 2021:

“… [A]s we head into these winter months, we know we cannot be complacent…So, right now we are going to continue to recommend masks in all schools for all people in those schools.” 

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) director, Anthony Fauci, meanwhile, was stymied in the summer of 2021 by politicians and parents who wanted mask mandates to disappear: “It just doesn’t make any sense to me why you would want to not protect the children, he echoed.”

“Protect the children.” The emotional sentiment quickly proliferated among mainstream media, politicians, teachers’ unions, and heated school board meetings. 

It seemed that masks—of any material, no matter how homespun—were a critical weapon in the arsenal against SARS-CoV-2. One simply could not beat this vicious disease, the loudest voices declared, without them.

Almost three years later, however, another growing contingent of voices—from parents and educators to scientists and lawmakers—are speaking up. Child masking may not be the panacea many once assumed it was, and in fact may come with a plethora of harms, including long-term exposure to carcinogenic toxins, learning decreases, lowered social awareness, and increased rates of illness.

Covering our children up, it turns out, may have uncovered a host of preventable ills.

Filthy Fabric

“Do Masks Interfere With Development of a Healthy Immune System?” Popular health website WebMD asks in an FAQ article about masking for children. The answer given, without any supporting evidence:

“Not at all. Wearing masks won’t compromise your child’s immunity or increase their risk of catching COVID-19 or other infections. In fact, because face masks cover your nose and mouth, they stop your child from constantly touching their face.

It cuts down on several infections, including COVID-19, that are spread through touch, droplets from bodily fluids, or through the air. Face masks protect your child’s overall health and immunity.”

All other FAQs are answered in a similar vein. No, masks cannot inhibit your child’s oxygen intake: 

“[M]asks are made from materials that are designed to allow a healthy flow of oxygen as your child breathes. It doesn’t affect their ability to focus either. In fact, almost all children aged 2 and above, even those with certain medical conditions, can safely wear masks in school or day care for long periods of time.”

Anyone who has met an actual child or lives outside the ivory towers of academia and science, however, will tell you otherwise. Watch a classroom of preschool students for five minutes, and you can see masks being chewed on, worn as chin straps, drooled on, dropped to the floor and used as a blindfold, or even a tissue. Does that sound like focus or proper, germ-preventing usage?

These real-world observations are not even counting the studies that also disagree with WebMD. One study looked at 12 masks (both disposable and reusable) under the microscope.

Every one contained the carcinogen titanium dioxide particles (also called TiO2) in at least one layer—all at levels that “exceeded the acceptable exposure level.” TiO2 has been classified as a Group 2B carcinogen, which means it can be “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by inhalation.

Interestingly, the state of California has a serious enough problem with titanium dioxide that it has placed it on its naughty list via Proposition 65.

“Titanium dioxide (airborne, unbound particles of respirable size) is on the Proposition 65 list because it can cause cancer,” the state’s website reads. “Exposure to titanium dioxide may increase the risk of cancer.”

So stay away from this cancer-causing chemical, California seemingly advises, but you and your offspring should definitely wear something that puts it right against your face.

After all, the Golden State was among the very last to drop its mask mandates for schools, and some Cali campuses are reinstating the mask must-do, apparently for old-time’s sake.

Another study out of Kansas examined whether counties with mask mandates outperformed those without when it came to COVID-19 deaths. It found that counties with a mask mandate had significantly higher case fatality rates than counties that allowed its citizens the freedoms to choose.

Why? The author offered a theory called the “Foegen effect.” This is the idea that deep re-inhalation of droplets stuck on face coverings might make COVID-19 infections more likely or more severe. He wrote:

“These findings suggest that mask use might pose a yet unknown threat to the user instead of protecting them, making mask mandates a debatable epidemiologic intervention.”

Furthermore, Dr. Zacharias Fögen said:

“The fundamentals of this effect are easily demonstrated when wearing a facemask and glasses at the same time by pulling the upper edge of the mask over the lower edge of the glasses. Droplets appear on the mask when breathing out and disappear when breathing in.”

Picture those droplets on the masks of oral-prone children, hour upon hour, day after day. It’s not a pretty picture. Perhaps there is a reason why our bodies were designed to breathe out the bad and leave it there?

Swimming Upstream, Yet Still Drowning

When it comes to masking young children, California and most of the rest of the States are vastly out-of-step with the rest of the world. World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) do not recommend masking kids ages five and younger whatsoever. Kids ages six to eleven should only be wearing face coverings, they advised, in areas where COVID-19 was spreading rapidly.

Huge chunks of the planet, including most of Europe, follow the overall heart of this advice. Irish pre-teens shouldn’t be masking, their health authorities say; in Iceland, those born in 2006 and beyond do not have to mask in any situation; Norway never recommended the practice for any age of students, and even advised strongly against it for elementary schoolers. 

Denmark’s school reopening documents don’t even mention masking; Sweden famously never mandated masks for anyone, though they were recommended.

Even Singapore in mask-happy Asia stopped requiring kindergarten-aged kids and below to cover their mouths and noses.

And what was the result? Did a huge chunk of European youngsters—or at least their older relatives—kick the COVID-19 bucket because of the stupidity of their country’s visibly-smiling decision-makers?

Though research on unmasked children dying of COVID-19 is scant (most likely because they die, masked or not, in startlingly low numbers), we do have access to studies on whole populations. And they lean toward the conclusion that countries who sternly enforced mask mandates weren’t exactly better than those that didn’t.

A study contrasting 35 European nations’ mask mandates and resulting health outcomes used the word “surprisingly” in its findings. As in, the authors were quite befuddled to discover that “weak positive correlations were observed when mask compliance was plotted against morbidity (cases/million) or mortality (deaths/million) in each country.”

Author and researcher Beny Spira concluded:

“The lack of negative correlations between mask usage and COVID-19 cases and deaths suggest that the widespread use of masks at a time when an effective intervention was most needed, i.e., during the strong 2020-2021 autumn-winter peak, was not able to reduce COVID-19 transmission. Moreover, the moderate positive correlation between mask usage and deaths in Western Europe also suggests that the universal use of masks may have had harmful unintended consequences.”

Denmark, for example, only had an average mask usage rate of 14 percent, with 312 corona-influenced deaths per million. Italy, meanwhile, was much better at hiding their faces with an A-grade 91 percent. Yet despite both nations being in Western Europe and both having socialized medicine, the land of Tuscany had a much-higher 1,223 COVID-19 deaths per million.

Can you truly crystallize the issue down to just those comparisons? Of course not. Perhaps one nation has more college graduates than the other. Maybe one populace is more “physically fit,” and therefore more “immune.” The healthcare system might be far superior in one country versus the other, and so on.

But that’s a key point in this debate: The mere presence of a face mask does not confer automatic, foolproof protection from any illness, nor does its absence correlate to scientific ignorance. This truth holds for all age groups around the entire planet, including the youngest among us.

California, and much of the United States, simply doesn’t care to admit what much of the world has already discovered: masking children is plain silly.

AVFCA Masked Child with Mom

Learning Loss Of All Kinds

If eyes are the window to the soul, then the mouth is the door to the heart and mind. Humans use our entire bodies to communicate, especially our faces. When half of our facial expressions are cut off, communication takes a big hit.

Science bears this idea out, especially in the crucial early childhood years when every day is a learning adventure. An Italian study showed:

“The human capacity to read emotions from facial configurations when a face mask is present becomes particularly reduced in toddlers.”

Small children simply could not accurately identify someone’s emotion when the subject was wearing a mask as well as they could without. Think about a toddler playing peek-a-boo; are they delighted when they cannot see your face? Or after, when you reveal yourself?

More importantly, if an entire generation is being raised to be terrible at emotional cues, what will the future consequences be?

A German study tried to estimate this emotional toll of mask-wearing on children when it asked parents what the effects had been on their daughters and sons. More than 20,000 responded on behalf of over 25,000 children. The authors reported:

“Impairments caused by wearing the mask were reported by 68% of the parents. These included irritability (60%), headache (53%), difficulty concentrating (50%), less happiness (49%), reluctance to go to school/kindergarten (44%), malaise (42%) impaired learning (38%) and drowsiness or fatigue (37%).”

Another study concluded:

“COVID-19 masks pose a real challenge to our everyday social interaction. We have shown that masks hinder major aspects of social perception, as they interfere with normal speed and accuracy of extracting identity, emotion, age, and gender.”

These studies do not even take into account those who have disabilities, such as hearing loss. One editorial in the esteemed British Medical Journal was headlined simply: “Face masks can be devastating for people with hearing loss.” If children cannot hear their doctors or teachers, they cannot cooperate nor learn.

And mask-wearing may be harming the very smallest among us. A longitudinal study of pregnant women and their infants discovered:

“Measured verbal, non-verbal, and overall cognitive scores are significantly lower since the beginning of the pandemic. Looking further, we find that children born before the pandemic and followed through the initial stages do not show a reduction in skills or performance, but rather that young infants born since the beginning of the pandemic show significantly lower performance than infants born before January 2019.

Thus, our results seem to suggest that early development is impaired by the environmental conditions brought on by the pandemic.”

Heck, long-term mask-wearing among children might even affect facial structure. An Italian team of plastic surgeons found evidence that it could make children’s ears stick out.

Effective… or Not

But it’s all worth it if those masks keep our children alive, right? They work to keep COVID-19 from killing our precious little ones, correct? Perhaps not. A 2015 study—re: pre-COVID-19 politics—in the British Medical Journal found that cloth masks have been shown to actually increase risk of infection. Cloth masks, obviously, are among the most commonly used face coverings by children.

Another review found that even with surgical masks and fancy N95s, there may be little-to-no difference when it comes to flu-like or respiratory illnesses; COVID-19, of course, is considered a respiratory illness. Hand-washing, the authors suggested, is probably a better defense.

If your mother-in-law still needs convincing, the Brownstone Institute compiled a list of 150 studies demonstrating the harm of continued mask wearing, including 101 alone on its ineffectiveness.

Slowly, the masses have started to push back against constant face-hiding among children. “Kids don’t need to be masked. Full stop,” said Dr. Jeanne Noble, director of COVID-19 response for the UCSF Emergency Department at the University of California, San Francisco. “They have minuscule risk of serious illness or death from COVID.”

Indeed, “If the aim is to save children’s lives, other interventions like enhanced pool safety would be much more effective” than masking, wrote the director of the COVID Initiative at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics alongside a professor of medicine at Stanford University.

If these Californian health authorities are saying that masking doesn’t work; if the evidence demonstrates that masking, in fact, harms; if the rest of the world has seemingly moved on from constant masking of childrenwhat’s the holdup?

Why do our governmental and health authorities insist on a practice that clearly is scientifically contentious and despised by huge swaths of the population?

A science columnist for the New York Times said it best in 2021:

“So far, adult fearmongering has probably fooled most children into believing that…masks are necessary precautions. But eventually, when the hysteria abets and the facts emerge, they will realize that their year of studying miserably served no more rational purpose than our ancestors’ child sacrifices to the gods. As Oscar Wilde said, “Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” This generation will have much to forgive.”

Uncovered and Unafraid

As California considers bringing back mask mandates during any given upsurge of COVID-19 cases, be a firm voice in your child(ren)’s school and extracurriculars.

Attend school board meetings, consider elevating anti-masking Californian authorities like those mentioned here, write your legislators detailing the harms of masking your own children, and consider alternative schooling options for your child.

Use your smile often in public, especially toward masked children; a little kindness and human connection go a long way. Teach your children about their immune systems, because knowledge is power.

Demonstrate courage firsthand by not panicking in unmasked environments, so that your children can follow your example. Faces forward, friends!


Published on February 02, 2023

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