Most adults may not have to wear masks anymore, but thanks to the Biden administration, toddlers still do, in Head Start programs. The New York Times reports:
in one of the few education programs the federal government directly oversees — Head Start preschools and child care centers for low-income families — mandatory masking rules are still on the books for teachers and children as young as 2-years-old.
That requirement is out of line with current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released last month, which recommend universal masking only if there is a high community transmission rate. The vast majority of schools and day care centers have made masks optional, even in the most virus-cautious regions on the country.
The strict Head Start guidelines were established last November during the surge in Delta variant infections, and they remain in place in half the states, including those throughout the Northeast and on the West Coast. In addition to universal masking, they require that Head Start staff members be vaccinated.
As Ed Morrissey notes, “Even in November of last year — ten months ago, mind you — the mandate was entirely ridiculous. The science was already clear that children were not susceptible to COVID-19 and that schools did not act as vectors for increased community transmission. That data had been readily available from UK studies since June 2020, and data from states that had ended mask mandates later that year clearly demonstrated the same thing. And that doesn’t address the ridiculous notion that toddlers can remain effectively masked in any way for more than a few minutes at a time. It was a nonsense policy by November 2021, and it’s even more absurd now.”
As a result, HHS headquarters told the New York Times that while they’re not planning to enforce the mask rules against toddlers, it takes a long time to change the rules — and they won’t even commit to doing that:
In a written statement, the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Head Start, acknowledged that the current guidelines contradict those of the C.D.C. but said that centers are not being checked for compliance on masking. Updating the official rules is “a lengthy process,” the statement said, which would take into consideration the C.D.C.’s evolving recommendations, the recent availability of vaccinations for children as young as 6 months and over 2,700 public comments.
But some Head Start programs will be enforcing the mask rules anyway, because local officials may enforce them, even if HHS headquarters doesn’t require that:
Even though the federal government has said it will not “monitor” the Head Start masking rule, centers across the country have struggled to interpret what that means in practice.
Program directors described a culture of compliance within Head Start that leaves them, they said, with little choice but to follow the guidelines strictly.
“We always choose to follow the most stringent” requirements on the books, said Amanda Worth-Colón, who works for Acelero Learning, overseeing several Head Start programs in New Jersey.
As Reason magazine notes, “other countries are far less militant about masking in schools. The World Health Organization does not advise masks for children ages 6 and under. The European Union recommends that students in K-8 schools be allowed to unmask.”
Even if mask mandates made sense for adults, they would not make sense for small children. Schools and daycare centers are not big vectors of the coronavirus epidemic. “Researchers from Yale University surveyed more than 57,000 U.S. child care providers.…They found no association between contracting the virus and exposure to child care,” reported the American Academy of Pediatrics. Studies find that children are much less likely to contract the virus than adults and also less likely to spread it.
The Centers for Disease Control pointed out that there’s “little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to community transmission.” “Schools do not, in fact, appear to be major spreaders of COVID-19,” said Professor Emily Oster of Brown University.