Time to expose toddlers before we do any more damage to their development

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that 90% of Americans no longer need to wear clothes face masks indoors, including in K-12 schools.

But through mandates or local guidance, small children – who face it lowest COVID risk Complications – are still being forced to mask for hours across the country, including in New York, California and DC and its suburbs, even outdoors in some cases.

America’s Great Unmasking will exclude 2- to 5-year-olds even as the harms of their masking continue to surface.

Since the pandemic began, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC have recommended that children ages 2 and older wear masks. This is in stark contrast to the world health organization, It said that because of their “psychosocial needs and developmental milestones,” children “aged 5 and under are not required to wear masks.”

Many places in Europe including the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and all of Scandinavia have not even masked primary school children and there is no evidence of increased outbreaks or community spread. Our strict masking guidelines also did not result in our youth showing better COVID health outcomes.

Many are reluctant to remove children’s masks because COVID vaccines are not yet approved for 5 and under. (Although the CDC, in an odd wording, says it recommends “universal indoor masking” in early care and education programs “for individuals ages 2 and older, regardless of immunization status.”)

Parents protest Mayor Eric Adams' mask mandate in daycares and preschools at a rally in front of City Hall Park in downtown Manhattan on March 7, 2022.
Parents protest Mayor Eric Adams’ mask mandate in daycares and preschools at a rally in front of City Hall Park in downtown Manhattan on March 7, 2022.
Stephen Jeremiah

However, unvaccinated children are at less risk COVID complications as vaccinated adults.

For the week of February 26th CDC data showed The hospitalization rate for children aged 0 to 4 years with COVID was 2.1 per 100,000 people. Compare that to the rates for adults, who are mostly vaccinated: for those aged 30 to 39, it was 2.0 per 100,000; for 50-64, 3.7; from 65, 10.8.

And of that small group of little kids hospitalized, it’s up to half incidentally admitted with COVID, not because of COVID.

In other words, children are least affected by COVID but remain subject to the strictest restrictions.

A general view of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that children in classrooms rarely test positive for COVID-19.
REUTERS/Tami Chappell/FILE

Though science is lagging behind on the effects of this unprecedented long-term masking, evidence suggests the harm to preschoolers is likely to be huge, and of up to speech delays to Difficulty making friends. This age group, more than any other, relies heavily on nonverbal feedback for critical development, particularly emotional facial expressions and social references.

have parents heartbreaking stories of the mask experiences of their small children. Preschool teachers don’t get severe allergic reactions right away because they can’t see a child’s face to spot an early sign, a reddening of the mouth. A child vomits into his mask, only to be told to put on a new mask immediately. Asthma and hearing loss did not qualify for mask exemptions.

When Brooke’s daughter is nervous or anxious, she tends to say what she needs to say with her mouth instead of saying it out loud. In a mask, no one has any idea that she is trying to communicate with them, likely increasing her fear of a new environment or situation and undermining trust in those she relies on to protect her.

Students complete an assignment in class at Yung Wing School PS 124 on March 07, 2022 in New York City.
Mask requirements have prevented children from learning how to socialize and speak coherently.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

These experiences can have a lasting effect. Children do not realize this critical time in development.

And the harmful disturbances in a child’s life do not always manifest themselves immediately. As with everyone measure of public health, the burden of proof should lie with the intervention – the benefit to the population should outweigh the harm. For now, the benefits of masking children are unproven, and the harms are just beginning to be understood and unfolding in real time.

While disguise seemed advisable in early 2020, we are in a different phase of the pandemic vaccines and therapeutics to protect the most vulnerable and less virulent strains. Continued restrictions on young children will have further consequences Harmful Effects on language, social skills and mental health.

It’s time health officials acknowledged the science. Without the guidance of the CDC and AAP in changing their guidelines, many early childhood education institutions are reluctant to change guidelines.

One day we will look back and see the United States as the country that instituted policies that harm children to bring uncertain benefits to adults. We must lift the masking code for all children in America and give children the childhood they deserve.

dr Jessica Hochman is a board-certified pediatrician. Brooke Smitherman Schmidt is a mother of two and founder of Save the Tots Virginia, a nonpartisan group campaigning for mask choice and sound COVID-19 policies. Time to expose toddlers before we do any more damage to their development


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