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Biden Says CDC 'Probably' Will Recommend Kids Under 12 Wear Masks to School

Plus: Biden says killing the filibuster would throw Congress into chaos, AOC is wrong about Bezos in space, and more....

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As kids return to in-person schooling this fall, those under 12 years old will "probably" be required to wear face coverings, President Joe Biden said Wednesday during a town hall event hosted by CNN.

"The CDC is going to say that what you should do is, everyone under the age of 12 should probably be wearing masks in school," Biden said during the event in Cincinnati, Ohio. "That's probably what's going to happen."

That comes just days after the American Association of Pediatrics issued new recommendations for the reopening of schools, including a suggestion that "everyone older than age 2 wear masks, regardless of vaccination status." California already issued—and then quickly reversed—a statewide mandate for masking in schools. And The Washington Post reports that top coronavirus officials at the White House and CDC met this week to discuss whether new masking guidelines are necessary as the number of COVID-19 infections rises due to the new Delta variant.

But panic over rising infections ignores some key data points. Most importantly, mass vaccination seems to have severed the link between infections and deaths. The next wave of the pandemic will not be the same as the ones that came before, thankfully.

And even though children under 12 cannot yet get vaccinated, there is still scant evidence to suggest they are at risk. Here's more on that from Joseph G. Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in an op-ed for The Washington Post this week:

"Three major studies over the past year all found the risk of death to be in the range of 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 1 million. Hospitalization rates for school-aged kids younger than 12 (the group that can't get vaccinated yet) hovered around 3 or 4 per million throughout the pandemic, reaching just under 1 per 100,000 at the worst point in January. Multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a serious condition that can affect children with covid-19, remains rare, and, thankfully, a recent study found inflammation and cardiac symptoms resolved rapidly.

There are also some major practical considerations when it comes to masking up in schools. Anyone who is recommending that 6-year-olds be required to wear masks for an entire school day has probably not spent a lot of time around 6-year-olds. Turning teachers into mask-enforcement officers won't help kids make up for lost classroom time.

"The benefits of masks in preventing serious illness or death from COVID-19 among children are infinitesimally small," write Neeraj Sood, director of the COVID program at the University of Southern California's Center for Health Policy and Economics, and Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford University. "At the same time they are disruptive to learning and communicating in classrooms. They may be partially effective in shielding adults from COVID, but since when is it ethical to burden children for the benefit of adults?"

Sood and Bhattacharya point out that the CDC's own numbers show that mask mandates are associated with a 20 percent reduction in COVID-19 infection rates. Then, they do the math: In June, about 5,000 children in California were diagnosed with COVID-19, which translates to 1,000 infections that could have been prevented with masks. "Given the survival rate among children, mask mandates might prevent one child death in the coming school year, a tiny fraction of the approximately 900 deaths of children 5 to 17 years old in 2019," they write. "If the aim is to save children's lives, other interventions—like enhanced pool safety—would be much more effective."

Since kids are largely not at risk from the virus but could carry the disease and infect others, it should be incumbent upon adults who work in schools to get vaccinated. In fact, that's true for people who don't work in schools, too. Vaccines, not mask mandates, are the ticket out of this pandemic.

If reopening schools in the fall is truly one of Biden's top priorities, as he has repeatedly claimed, then the White House should be leaning on its teacher union allies to make sure as many school employees as possible are vaccinated. Leave those kids alone.


FREE MINDS

Some Democrats see abolishing the Senate's filibuster rules as the key to passing even more major legislation, but President Joe Biden says he doesn't believe that's true. 

Instead, scrapping the rules that require 60 votes to bring bills to the Senate floor would "throw the entire Congress into chaos" and ensure that "nothing at all will get done," Biden said during Wednesday's town hall in Cincinnati.

Biden's probably right about that. There are plenty of other procedural mechanisms that a congressional minority can use to slow or halt the passage of legislation, so all the attention on the filibuster is a bit of a red herring. The filibuster also survives because at least a few Democratic senators are capable of looking ahead to a future where they aren't in charge.


FREE MARKETS

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) says Jeff Bezos was able to go to space because he's taking advantage of Amazon's earthbound workforce and customers.

That's nonsense, writes Reason's Liz Wolfe:

Bezos is so wealthy because, over the better part of three decades, he built a company that could successfully deliver a wide array of consumer goods to customers in just a few days flat, serving 300 million people annually (with 150 million of those customers deciding Amazon's services are so valuable that they choose to pay for an annual Prime membership). Bezos and other Amazon executives built a company that could survive the dot-com bubble, the subprime mortgage crisis, and a pandemic.

Amazon isn't perfect, of course, but so much discourse around Bezos' journey to the edge of outer space is wildly missing the mark.


QUICK HITS

• A procedural vote to open debate in the Senate on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending package failed to clear the 60-vote threshold as Republicans withheld their support.

• Sen. Rob Portman (R–Ohio), the Senate GOP's top negotiator on the infrastructure deal, says another attempt at bringing it to the floor could come as soon as Monday.

• After Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi refused to accept two Republican nominees—Reps. Jim Jordan (R–Ohio) and Jim Banks (R–Ind.)—to the panel charged with investigating the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy withdrew all Republicans from the committee.

• Would fewer elections make for a better democracy?

• More than 80 countries are developing digital versions of their currencies.

• Kentaro Kobayashi, the creative director for the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics, was fired just a day before the event due to a Holocaust joke he told during a comedy routine more than 20 years ago.