Readers Write: State COVID-19 regs for students harmful

The Island Now

On Sept. 15 Gov. Hochul announced a mandate that required all people ages 2 and older to wear a mask indoors at New York state-regulated child care facilities. When I received the news through our daycare provider, something inside me broke.

Up until that point, I had been carefully following all pandemic protocols since March 2020, but this latest twist made little sense: My children, both under 5 years of age, had been in a full-time daycare facility five days a week without masks for over a year, without any community spread, so why now, and why did neither myself nor my daycare provider have any say in the decision?

We’ve known for a while that a child’s risk of contracting a severe case of COVID is very low.

Over 20 months into the pandemic and this has not changed; in fact, vaccinated adults are at a greater risk of severe COVID illness than unvaccinated children. So why are we still masking our kids, and now our toddlers?

The daycare face-covering mandate points to CDC guidance, which states that “everyone ages 2 and older in areas of substantial or high transmission to wear a mask in public indoor places” but daycares are not known areas of “high transmission,” nor do other countries require children as young as 2 to mask up in daycare settings.

The World Health Organization actually advises against children aged 5 years and under wearing masks: “Children aged 5 years and under should not be required to wear masks. This is based on the safety and overall interest of the child and the capacity to appropriately use a mask with minimal assistance.”

When our daycare’s school year resumed in late August 2021, smiling students filled the hallways and ran eagerly to their classrooms. Just two weeks later, when the NY state mask mandate for daycares went into effect, the scene looked very different: A 4-year-old who had previously loved school was crying in his mother’s arms because he did not want to wear a mask to attend class, nor did he have to the day before.

I watched a group of 3-year-olds sitting around a table, barely interacting, their facial expressions impossible to read. Teachers reported difficulty hearing their students’ muffled voices behind their masks. Parents raised concerns about safety and compliance: Was it the teacher’s job to force a mask over their child’s mouth if the child refused?

In any other situation, would covering a toddler’s airways for the better part of a 10-12 hour day be tolerated?

Requiring children as young as 2 years of age to wear a mask is not only medically unnecessary, but it comes with considerable harm. These children are learning how to speak and express themselves.

Use of their full facial expressions is critical at this age, especially in an environment where they are learning to socialize with other children and communicate their needs to their teachers. We are already seeing the negative impact of masking children play out in our elementary schools: masks make it challenging for teachers to teach reading, may impede proper speech development—especially for non-native English speakers—and contribute to student anxiety and depression.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national state of emergency due to the mental health crisis among children and teens—but nowhere in their declaration do they acknowledge that the policies for which they advocate are contributing to that crisis.

Given the low risk of COVID-19 to children, and the successful examples set by our European counterparts, we should be removing the mask mandate for all students, not extending the mandate to 2-year-olds.

When it comes to protecting our children, we need sensible policies that align with true levels of risk, not media-hyped worst-case scenarios.

At this moment, parents in New York state are frightened, not because of COVID, but the government has taken away our agency to decide what is best for our children. When policies and mandates become more dangerous to our children than the virus itself, then we are no longer fighting the virus.
COVID has already won. Our children have lost.

Carly Rose Elson

Port Washington

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