A City, If You Can Keep It: The kids still aren’t alright

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A Winters Express opinion column

By Richard Casavecchia
Special to the Express

The latest restriction to sweep through California public schools is requiring students to wear masks … outdoors.

Masking students outdoors provides zero measurable benefit against the nearly non-existent risk of outdoor transmission. But, it carries the same lifelong negative consequences to mental health and social development that we have seen with all COVID restrictions applied to children under 18.

Last year, I wrote a column titled “The kids aren’t alright” discussing, in part, available data on transmission in schools. I predicted one student case/week and one teacher case every six and a half weeks in the entire Winters Joint Unified School District once in-person instruction resumed.

The brand new Winters JUSD COVID-19 Dashboard shows we are currently seeing 1.75 student cases per week and just over one staff case every two weeks. These numbers line up with the predicted case rates once we adjust from Alpha variant transmission rates to the Delta variant which is about three to five times as contagious. With students, we are outperforming the model.

In 19 months, nationwide, there have been 4,727,531 cases and 579 deaths of children under 18 due to COVID in the US. By comparison, in the 2018-2019 flu season (approximately four to seven months long), 477 children died of the flu. On an equivalent timeline, the flu is far more deadly to kids under 18 than COVID has been.

This summer, Johns Hopkins reported that they have found 0 instances of a child COVID death that did not have a serious underlying condition like Leukemia. So, the COVID fatality rate in otherwise healthy children is zero. According to CDC and CDPH data, the known case hospitalization rate for school aged children in California is 0.45 percent.

There is no science supporting universal masking of students, or anyone, outdoors. Data shows that transmission outdoors for all ages is rare and seems to be limited to large festivals. Incidental contact transmission (e.g. walking down the street) has not been proven once worldwide, which is really what the intent of on campus outdoor mask requirements would be to prevent.

In May of this year, the CDC published a report on masks in schools. Buried in the discussion is a line stating that no statistically significant difference in transmission was observed between schools that required mask use among students and schools where mask use was optional. The summarized conclusion states that indoor mask requirements for teachers and staff members and improved ventilation are important strategies for public health.

A study out of Spain shows that a COVID-19 positive student infects 0.4 people on average (R0 = 0.4), this is born out locally in the zero student-to-student infections from the minimal (14) number of cases we have seen in our district. The same study shows that 75 percent of cases in the classroom had zero secondary spread.

Children transmit COVID even less than adults do.

Given the data, I would argue what is being done currently in our schools is more than adequate, and in some cases may be overkill.

To run through a handful of article titles on this topic written by Doctors or Ph.Ds in relevant fields:

  • “Kids Don’t Need Masks Outside” The Atlantic, May 12, written by a practicing internist from Washington, D.C.
  • “Masking Children: Tragic, Unscientific, and Damaging” American Institute for Economic Research, March 10, written by a Ph.D in Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact.
  • “School Mask Mandates Mean Trauma For Millions Of Children, Especially Those From Low-Income Families” Forbes Aug. 18, written by an elementary teacher who is a Ph.D candidate from Columbia and former Democratic nominee for US Senate. This one is particularly salient to our district but seems to have been taken down due to wrongthink.

Lloyd Fisher, the president of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is quoted as saying, “The negatives [of masks] are not zero, especially for young children … It is important for children to see facial expressions of their peers and the adults around them in order to learn social cues and understand how to read emotions.” Children with special needs like articulation delays may be most affected by this. The World Health Organization has repeatedly stated guidance that children under 6 years old not wear masks at all.

The author of the Forbes article is an elementary school educator and Ph.D candidate at Columbia University trained in trauma-informed instruction. He states that “every year of a child’s early life lays the foundation for their adulthood and insecure foundations do, in fact, crumble. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, children without assurance of their personal security (e.g. social anxiety from masks and social distancing) are often incapable of making healthy social connections and may have difficulty building intimate relationships in their lives. Neurological research demonstrates that kids who experience this kind of fear and trauma at a young age undergo structural and functional restructuring of their brain’s prefrontal cortex, resulting in emotional and cognitive processing problems. This trauma is especially concerning for children growing up in poverty who often have the compounding effect of other trauma at home or in their community.”

If we are not evaluating every mitigation measure against the measurable increased risk in other areas of their lives that these mitigation measures cause, we are being negligent in our duty to protect them. Children rarely die or are hospitalized from COVID, and evidently hardly spread to other people.

We should be following the science, based on the data we have. Masking students outdoors is all cost and little benefit and the Winters JUSD Board of Trustees should reject any proposal from staff or mandate from the county or state to do so as it is a net harm to students.

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