As agreement has broadened among politicians and in the media over remote learning's harm to children during the coronavirus pandemic, the discussion over whether students should continue to be forced to wear masks while in school continues.
Some media and Big Tech outlets still are peddling the line that masks in schools are the way to go. "Today" even did a demonstration this week with correspondent Vicky Nguyen showing how to layer a cloth mask over a surgical mask for a young child, noting there aren't many KN95 or N95 masks available in smaller sizes. USA Today has a parents' guide for the best masks for children to wear, quoting Boston Children's Hospital's Dr. Richard Malley.
A Facebook fact-checking partner admitted last week it erroneously flagged as false an article that condemned a study that pushed federal health officials to encourage school mask mandates. Some medical experts who spoke to NPR in November weren't for getting rid of masks in schools any time soon, although some pushed for it sooner if a high vaccination rate was achieved in the school-age community.
Of course, that article flagged by Facebook stemmed from a piece published in The Atlantic, which said there was "very shaky science" for a study cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to show masks were effective in preventing outbreaks. While the CDC recommends those over the age of 2 wear masks indoors, even the World Health Organization does not recommend children under 5 wear them.
Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, a family and emergency medical professional and Fox News contributor, said masks have their place amid the surge of the highly transmissible omicron variant.
"It depends on a few things," she told Fox News Digital. "For example, if you're in New York City where there is a massive outbreak, and maybe you have asthma, or you're too young to be vaccinated, then that's one thing to keep in mind … We need to get to the point where we'll get through this surge, and we'll re-evaluate."
Nesheiwat has treated children with negative outcomes from prolonged mask-wearing, including those with speech impediments and learning disabilities who benefit from seeing people's faces.
A Brown University study last year concluded mask-wearing had a negative impact on very young children's cognitive development and communications skills during critical years of their lives.
"You have to look at evidence-based medicine especially as they relate to children. Without using the data, it's really quite unethical. No one is being held accountable for the harm they're going to cause," Dr. Nicole Saphier, a Fox News contributor, said.
While cloth masks have been revealed to be nearly useless in preventing the new variants of the illness, Saphier said there was little clinical benefit to children wearing the more highly regarded N95 and KN95 masks, given the increased levels of vaccination among children, the amount who have been exposed to or gotten the virus, and the known less severe outcomes from coronavirus among younger people compared to older ones throughout the pandemic.
"Where is the benefit? If you want to say decreased transmission of the virus, we have already demonstrated over and over again that the classroom is one of the safest places for children," Saphier said. "We know there are consequences to children wearing masks in schools … Facial recognition has always been a vital component of education and development."
Dr. Marty Makary, also a Fox News contributor, said school mask mandates were well-intentioned but said there was "no exit criteria."
"During an active outbreak in a school, it makes sense for kids to temporarily wear a quality mask," he said. "It does not make sense to require cloth masks for schools. The problem in general with government mandates is they often don't get it right … Several European countries have issued warnings about the downsides of masks to child development and mental health."
Makary noted, for instance, it took decades before data showed the public the harmful effects of smoking, and he feared we were only starting to understand the possible collateral damage done by continuing to mask in schools, especially among the youngest children who are statistically at the least risk from the virus.
"I believe we are just beginning to understand the harm that will result from restrictions on 52 million American children, restrictions which outpace those placed on higher-risk groups, mainly adults," he said. "Many of them are nothing short of an abuse of power from an existing power imbalance, where the most restrictions are being imposed on the lowest risk of the entire U.S. population, simply because this segment is defenseless and voiceless."