Controversy Surrounding Mask Mandate for Young Children
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra has faced criticism for defending a policy that requires 2-year-olds to wear masks in order to participate in a low-income financial assistance program.
The Head Start program, managed by HHS, provides education, nutrition, and parental engagement services for low-income families across the United States. During the COVID-19 pandemic, HHS implemented a rule mandating vaccinations and face masks for children aged birth to five years old participating in the program.
Opponents of the policy argue that the low proportion of COVID-19 deaths among young children makes the mask requirement unnecessary. According to provisional figures by the CDC, children aged zero to 4 years old accounted for less than a tenth of a percent of COVID deaths, with other health conditions often contributing to these cases. The majority of COVID-19 deaths occurred in individuals over 65 years old.
Critics also raise concerns about the potential negative effects of masking on children’s social and intellectual development. Facial expressions play a crucial role in human social development, and masks can hinder the clarity of these cues. There are fears that children growing up during the pandemic may experience long-term developmental and social issues.
Furthermore, critics question the effectiveness of masks against COVID-19, highlighting that the virus is smaller than the spaces between mask fibers on a microbial level. Studies suggest that masking may have little impact on the spread of respiratory viruses like COVID-19.
Despite these concerns, Secretary Becerra defended the mask mandate when questioned by Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Calif.), stating that it was essential in combating the pandemic and preventing further loss of lives.
Opposition to the Mask Mandate
Republicans have long pushed for the repeal of the mask mandate, arguing that it infringes on personal freedoms and imposes unnecessary restrictions on children. In April 2022, Reps. David Joyce (R-Ohio) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa) introduced a resolution to end the mandate.
“The federal government should not be using taxpayer dollars to force children as young as two years old to wear face masks,” said Joyce. “If parents or individual Head Start programs want to mask themselves or their kids, they have every right to do so. But the federal government should not insert itself into that decision-making process, especially when children are the least at risk for COVID-19 but the most likely to suffer developmental setbacks from prolonged masking.”
Opponents of the mandate also highlight the negative impact of school closures and remote learning on students, particularly in low-income and rural communities. Loss of learning, lack of socialization, and increased rates of depression and suicide have been observed, underscoring the significant challenges faced by students during the pandemic.
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