“Wearing a cloth mask to keep safe from a virus is like installing a chain link fence to keep mosquitoes out of your backyard.” That’s what a doctor friend joked to me in the early days of the pandemic.
On 60 Minutes on March 8, 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask. When you’re in the middle of an outbreak, wearing a mask might make people feel a little bit better and it might even block a droplet, but it’s not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is. And often there are unintended consequences — people keep fiddling with the mask and they keep touching their face.”
Just a month later, the CDC guidance changed. But very little messaging has been devoted to promoting the kinds of masks that work and discouraging those that don’t. Instead, blanket recommendations about “protective face coverings” run the gamut from T-shirt material to those found on hospital employees working directly with sick patients.
From the outset, we’ve been sold the notion that masks are the magic forcefield keeping Covid at bay. Fauci was photographed last July wearing a cloth Washington Nationals mask during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing.
On CNN earlier this month, Dr. Leana Wen advised New Yorkers about how to stay safe on New Years Eve amid the Omicron surge. She recommended wearing a three-ply medical mask and warned, “Don’t wear a cloth mask. Cloth masks are little more than facial decoration.”
What have two-year-olds, who are not at risk of serious illness or death and are not efficient spreaders, been forced to wear over the course of this almost two-year-long pandemic? Cloth masks. It’s difficult to find masks that comfortably fit tiny faces, as any parent who has to jump through the mask hoops on a daily basis can tell you. Most have settled on cloth masks they can buy and reuse for comfort and cost reasons. And now they’re hearing one of the most prominent experts on the virus joke on national television that the mitigation effort they’ve been told will keep their children safe is merely decoration.
How long have those in public health known that most of the masks they’ve forced us to put on our kids are useless? Why won’t they speak out against toddlers forced to wear dirty wet cloth on their faces all day long? I missed Dr. Wen’s outspoken activism on behalf of America’s kids who have been forced to mask up as a condition of attending school in person. (Not that I am surprised that a former president of Planned Parenthood isn’t bothering to advocate for kids, but I digress.)
Now that vaccines are freely available for kids ages five to eleven and children under five are at even statistically lower risk of serious illness or death than vaccinated young adult males, this is a moment of truth for mask mandates in schools. In a sane world where actual science impacted public health and policy, Dr. Wen’s admission, along with David Zweig’s explosive recent feature in The Atlantic about the CDC’s flawed data for masking in schools, would signal the end of toddlers wearing Paw Patrol masks.
But if we’ve learned anything over the course of this pandemic, it’s just how arbitrary and irrational even the “experts” can be.