Jen Psaki on school mask mandates: Hey, my kindergartener told me she's happy to wear a mask all day

That’s super, Jen. What about kids who don’t enjoy wearing masks and parents who believe the risk to those kids from COVID is low enough that they shouldn’t be forced to wear one?


No one’s talking about banning masks in schools. The ban in states like Florida is on mask mandates. Parents get to decide if their children mask up or not there. Why shouldn’t that be the default policy until we know for a fact that kids are at increased risk from Delta?

We’re all guilty at times of treating anecdotes as data that should inform policy but the White House press secretary dismissing the debate over whether kids should mask with a glib “mine’s fine with it” is next-level.

The most pressing question of the pandemic as the start of the school year looms is whether kids are more vulnerable to the new variant than they were to previous strains. Some pediatricians insist that they are based on the number of children landing in hospitals lately, with one pediatric facility in New Orleans having recently seen the number of admissions jump from zero to 20 in the span of two weeks. Tennessee’s health commissioner told reporters that she expects all state pediatric hospitals to be filled by the end of next week due to a surge in respiratory infections — not just COVID but everyday viruses like RSV too. “Never in my career have I seen hospitals full in the summer,” she added.


There’s also this:

I know, I know. Anecdotes, not data.

Is Delta hitting kids harder than previous variants did, in which case parents might be jittery about sending their children to school without masks? Or is Delta hitting them mildly on average but very hard in outlier cases, with more of those outlier cases showing up in hospitals lately simply because the total number of infected kids is much greater now than it was in previous waves? If Delta sends the same percentage of children to the ER as the original virus did but it’s infecting 10 times as many kids, we should expect 10 times as many hospitalizations — even though the virus is no more dangerous to the average child than earlier iterations were.

I’m not sure what a parent should do if the latter is true. Your kid’s more likely to get infected and bring the virus home but no more likely to have a bad outcome. Mask or no mask?

Even if kids aren’t being hit harder by Delta, the apparent fact that more of them are getting infected creates a complicating factor for the fall. What happens when there’s a “twindemic” of children with COVID and children with flu?


“Many children’s hospitals get quite full during the usual winter months with influenza, RSV and other viral respiratory pathogens,” Anderson said. With an added surge of Covid-19, “there would be major concerns about hospital capacity.”

Kline agreed. “Children don’t have very many options when it comes to finding care if they have severe disease or complex medical conditions,” he said. “Covid is filling beds that otherwise might be occupied by children with other medical problems.”

That’s grim but still doesn’t get us closer to concluding that mandating masks in school will meaningfully reduce the risk relative to voluntary masking.

Blue-state governors don’t care. “Anyone telling you that we can safely reopen our schools without requiring everyone inside to wear a mask is quite simply lying to you. Because we can’t,” said New Jersey’s governor today. Again, he has no proof of that. But I’m willing to make him the same deal as Pradheep Shanker: I’ll tolerate mask mandates for students if he’ll grab the unions by the throat and insist on vaccine mandates for teachers. An unvaccinated teacher is as likely to expose a child to the virus as a classmate is but teachers can do something to meaningfully reduce their risk that kids can’t. If the safety of children is as important as Murphy claims (and it is) then Democrats should be pulling out all the stops. Masks for students and vaccines for staff.


Red-state governors are proceeding differently. Not only has Ron DeSantis banned school mask mandates in Florida, he and the state Board of Ed are putting some teeth into it. Wow:

Florida’s Board of Education has approved an emergency rule to allow private school vouchers if parents feel their children are being harassed by a school district’s COVID-19 safety policies, including requirements to wear masks.

The parents could request the vouchers under provisions normally used to protect children who are being bullied…

According to the emergency meeting notice, some of the State Board of Education members agreed that the disagreements over face mask mandates at schools presented “the potential for student learning loss and educational disruption with schools starting next week,” and “an immediate danger to the public health, safety, and welfare of students.”

If your local school district insists on masking your kid in defiance of the state ban, congratulations. You can enroll them in private school instead at state expense. That’s a powerful financial incentive for school districts to back off on restrictions.

Masked or unmasked, let’s hope that all kids are back in class come next month. There’s been a lot of lip service paid to the importance of in-person instruction lately, including by Democrats, but you know how the education bureaucracy will react if there’s a new Delta surge. They’re already hedging:


I’ll leave you with this manipulative segment from CNN. Things are turning desperate politically for the pro-mandate contingent if they’re resorting to having children themselves front their position.

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David Strom 6:40 PM | April 18, 2024