Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was asked Wednesday morning at a White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing to explain what impact expanding vaccination to 5- to 11-year-olds would have on masking in schools. "You can speak to sort of the benefits along those lines," Associated Press reporter Zeke Miller prompted her.
Here's how Walensky responded:
After we have authorization from [the Food and Drug Administration] and recommendations from CDC we will be working to scale up pediatric vaccination. That said, it will take some time, and as I just noted, as we head into these winter months, we know we cannot be complacent. We also know that from previous data that schools that have had masks in place were three-and-a-half times less likely to have school outbreaks requiring school closure. So, right now we are going to continue to recommend masks in all schools for all people in those schools and we will look forward to scaling out pediatric vaccination during this period of time.
So the "benefits" of vaccinating kids is that kids will be vaccinated; otherwise nothing changes.
Walensky and the CDC have serially misrepresented the data on which they base their global outlier of a recommendation that kids aged 2 and older wear masks in indoor group settings. But what makes the director's comments today particularly distressing for some parents is that it offers zero off ramp; no numerical set of targets to hit; not even a distant glimmer of light when it comes to the increasingly grim and questionably scientific practice of concealing children's faces at a developmentally critical age.
"Please find a parameter to unmask children," responded infectious disease specialist Monica Gandhi of UC San Francisco. Or as Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo wrote yesterday, "Masks in schools were meant to be a temporary measure. It is good policy and practice to establish off-ramps for interventions that aren't meant to be permanent….We should be able to answer what conditions would enable an end."
My 6-year-old, who has spent nearly one-quarter of her life wearing masks in group indoor settings, attends a school where all the adults are vaccinated, kids and adults alike get tested once a week, and (per state requirement, as directly influenced by the CDC) everyone over age 2 wears masks, even outdoors. We live in a moderately high vaccination zip code (68 percent of all residents with at least one shot, 64 percent fully vaxxed), in a city with a lower case rate than all but six states, whose positive rate among regularly tested, unvaccinated public school students since mid-September is a minuscule 0.23 percent. I would like to know what any of those numbers need to look like in order for my daughter to see her teachers' mouths again.
Instead, as Harvard associate public health professor Joseph G. Allen wrote in Tuesday's Washington Post, "it's easy to see how schools could sleepwalk into indefinite masking for kids for at least this entire school year."
The coronavirus remains largely an older-person disease, attacking particularly those with pre-existing comorbidities. As of Oct. 20, just 542 of the 723,280 people who the CDC have counted as deaths involving COVID-19 have been under the age of 18, despite that group representing 23 percent of the U.S. population. The two age cohorts in New York City with the lowest cumulative COVID-19 case rates are the ones totally or mostly ineligible for the vaccine: children age 0 to 4 (6,049 per 100,000 people), and children age 5 to 12 (9,220 per 100,000).
As Allen points out, "In highly vaccinated New England, the hospitalization rate right now for kids under 17 is about 7 per 10 million. That is not a typo. At the worst of the delta surge in Florida, the hospitalization rate for this age group was about 1 per 100,000. It has since dropped sharply in that region, and is now approaching 1 per million again." And irresponsible journalistic scaremongering notwithstanding, these numbers accelerated downward as school doors opened this fall.
Walensky's refusal to offer parents any future hope runs the risk of doing more than just boosting alcohol sales. As Monica Gandhi points out, it reduces a potential incentive for parents to vaccinate their young'uns. "I think tying availability of the vaccine in children to taking away restrictions in adults and children provides a very positive motivation for everyone," she wrote today.
It also reinforces the growing notion that pandemic restrictions are meted out in proportion to the targets' political power, rather than vulnerability to the disease. "When the 63-year-old governor of NY goes out to crowded bars without a mask, but mandates 2-year-olds (lower risk of severe illness than vax'd governor) wear masks all day long at daycare," noted Democratic New York state legislator Rachel Barnhardt yesterday, referring to some widely circulated photos of Kathy Hochul yukking it up with some Buffalo Bills fans, "it's time for some offramps."
There are entire swaths of the country where the CDC's opinion of school masking matters not. And there are plenty of parents in CDC-obedient cities like New York and Los Angeles who view the microscopic positive-test rates of students as proof that heavy-handed restrictions work. Since the relevant public officials won't answer the question, I'll put it to the mask-happy blue-state parents: At what number—of cases, hospitalizations, vaccines, you name it—will you support allowing developmentally sensitive kids to take the damned masks off?
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