It is St. Patrick’s week, but there is little Irish luck for school kids in Los Angeles who are still being forced to wear masks, despite strong science showing that mask mandates result in little benefit.
At the end of February, Governor Gavin Newsom finally relented and issued a statement saying, “After March 11, in schools and child care facilities, masks won’t be required but will be strongly recommended.”
However, the Los Angeles school district and the teachers union have put the brakes on making masks optional in city schools.
The powerful United Teachers of Los Angeles union says the classroom mask mandate “continues to remain in place.”
UTLA chief Cecily Myart-Cruz claims, “It is premature to discuss removing these health and safety measures while there are still many unvaccinated youth in our early education programs and schools.”
“We are committed to upholding our science-driven approach to COVID-19 protocols,” adds the school district.
Well, what is the science and what does it tell us about the effectiveness of masking children in classrooms?
In an important January 2022 article in The Atlantic, Margery Smelkinson, a COVID-19 researcher, Leslie Bienen, a faculty member at the Oregon Health and Science University-Portland State University School of Public Health, and Jeanne Noble, a physician at the University of California at San Francisco, observe that “two years into this pandemic, keeping unproven measures in place is no longer justifiable.”
At the top of their list of unjustified policies is “mandatory masks for kids at school.”
The trio reviewed studies by the Centers for Disease Control, studies cited by the CDC, and others touted by the media to support masking school children. When they tried to find real solid scientific evidence to justify masking policies, they said, “We came up empty-handed.”
Interestingly, the most rigorous CDC study looked at schools in Georgia and found that there was no statistical difference in the incidences of COVID-19 between schools which required masks “compared with schools where mask use was optional.”
According to Smelkinson, Bienen, and Noble, two other CDC studies purporting to show the benefits of student mask mandates, plus other studies cited by CDC, were rife with methodological flaws, such as failing to control for vaccination rates, failure to quantify the size of outbreaks, and failure to report testing protocols for students.
Further, some of the studies failed to isolate the impacts of masks specifically and made no comparisons with schools that did not require masks.
Therefore, the claim that schools with mask mandates have lower COVID-19 transmission rates than schools without mask mandates “is not justified by the data that have been gathered.”
The three researchers also looked at different counties, which had similar vaccination rates, but different community mask policies.
“Neighboring Los Angeles and Orange Counties, which had similar vaccination rates but differing masking requirements, had similar case and hospitalization rates.”
Further, there are data analyses showing that mask mandates in schools do not correlate with COVID-19 case rates.
Brown University researchers analyzed 2020-21 student COVID-19 case rates in Florida, New York, and Massachusetts and concluded: “We do not find any correlations with mask mandates.”
And a data analysis of school districts in North Dakota actually found that mask-optional districts actually had a lower prevalence of cases than mask-mandated districts.
In addition, Smelkinson, Bienen, and Noble reviewed international data, which showed “masking is a barrier to speech recognition, hearing, and communication, and that masks impede children’s ability to decode facial expressions, dampening children’s perceived trustworthiness of faces.”
Teachers, parents, and speech pathologists also report that “masks can make learning difficult for some of America’s most vulnerable children, including those with cognitive delays, speech and hearing issues, and autism.”
In conclusion, the trio of researchers emphasize: “Continued mandatory masking of children in school” fails the test that the “foundation of medical and public-health interventions should be that they work.” The adults who run the Los Angeles schools should heed their warning.
Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. He is the author of the new PRI book The Homeschool Boom: Pandemic, Policies, and Possibilities.