Robert Clinton

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Editor’s Note: The Herald Journal is printing the following commentary in the interest of providing a variety of voices on the opinion page. The newspaper cannot speak to the validity of science cited by the author.

I write this editorial as a member of the leadership team of Cache Parents United (CPU), a group of over 300 local citizens working to educate and empower individuals to advocate for excellent education services for children and to keep the family as the primary source of influence on the formation of their character and decisions of health and wellbeing. My purpose is to share our position that mask mandates are detrimental to the wellbeing and educational success of Cache County children.

The Bear River Health Department has the authority, under Utah SB-107, to issue mask mandates for Cache County students. If this mandate is issued, the county executive and County Council has the authority to overturn such a decision.

We strongly discourage the BRHD from issuing such a mandate; we petition the Cache County executive and council to terminate such orders. Our position rests on one very important fact: There are no reputable, peer-reviewed studies that show mask mandates have a practical, positive effect on COVID rates and outcomes in schools. Health officials and policy makers are left to rely only on studies that do not directly address the effectiveness of school district mask mandates. There is strong evidence that children that wear masks long term suffer from greater health problems.

Lack of Evidence of the Effectiveness of School Mask Mandates

A recent (August 2021) article in New York Magazine reviewed the evidence of school mask mandates. They concluded there is no solid scientific evidence to support the use of school mask mandates to reduce the spread and consequences of COVID. The author of the article reached out to the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) — the two most prominent organizations advocating for masking in schools, for the evidence underlying their recommendations. The AAP refused to respond and the CDC admitted the evidence was circumstantial. Given this lack of evidence, many peer countries of the U.S. in medical advancement (UK, Ireland, all of Scandinavia, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy) have exempted schools from mask mandates.

With the lack of gold-standard studies of mask mandates, many health experts and politicians are making policy decisions based on unrealistic laboratory studies showing that masks reduce the flow of virus-laden air from the breath of infected individuals. It is not good science to assume that mask effectiveness in reducing virus air flow in a controlled laboratory will result in fewer COVID cases in schools.

What Does the Science Tell Us about the Effectiveness of School Mask Mandates?

Two recent studies examined the role of mask mandates and the spread of COVID in schools. The CDC looked at COVID rates in counties with and without school mask mandates. The results showed that differences in infection rates were not larger than what would be expected by chance. The University of Michigan’s School of Public Health conducted a study (not yet peer reviewed) showing that school districts without mask mandates had infection rates 60% higher than schools with mask mandates. These results sound important until you read the study carefully. School districts with mask mandates reported COVID infection rates of 450 cases per year, per 100,000 students (0.45%) compared to districts without mask mandates reporting infection rates of 720 per year, per 100,000 students (0.72%). If we use the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) estimates of the risk of hospitalization for children following a COVID diagnosis approximately 27 out of one-million more kids will end up hospitalized for COVID due to not having a school mask mandate. If we use the most extreme estimate of the risk of death for children that contract COVID (5 in 100,000), the statistics suggest about 13.5 more students per 100-million will die of COVID in school districts without a mask mandate (there are just over 50 million students in K-12 in the U.S.). As a comparison, about five in 100,000 children die each year from auto accidents. It is the position of CPU that the evidence of the effectiveness of school mask mandates in reducing COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths is not strong enough to take away an important health decision from parents and guardians. Public health officials and politicians would save many more lives by working to reduce childhood deaths due to automobile accidents, drowning, and cancer than trying to enforce mask mandates.

Negative Effects of Masks on Kids

There is growing awareness that forcing school children to wear masks can create physical and mental health problems. Conditions such as anxiety, autism, hearing difficulties, asthma, heart problems, and skin conditions are made worse by masks. Healthy children also suffer from long term mask wearing.

In a typical school day, a child exhales about 2.5 fluid ounces of water vapor (imagine a large bottle of perfume). Bacteria, viruses, spittle, and other human wastes are also expelled. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported that trapped moisture and body heat facilitate bacterial growth. Children inhale these germ colonies leading to a host of face, mouth, and lung problems. The contamination becomes even worse when kids touch their masks, share their masks with others, and drop them on the floor. Better research is welcome but common sense tells us that requiring children to breathe through a wet, warm, germy mask for 35+ hours per week can lead to serious health and emotional problems.

Future Public Policy

We call on parents, citizens, and elected officials to demand complete transparency from the BRHD on the evidence used to impose a mask mandate on students in Cache County. There is now too much evidence to rely on statements like “experts say” and “the consensus is.” Make decisions based on science, not scientists. We plead with health officials to cite peer-reviewed gold-standard studies that show mask mandates have practical — not just statistically significant — positive effects on COVID transmission in schools. Cost-benefit analyses must be used to consider the health problems resulting from long-term mask usage by children. The result will be better decisions and better health outcomes.

Robert Clinton retired as a Major from the U.S. Airforce and is the Chapter Chair of Cache Parents United, affiliated with Utah Parents United.

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