By: Supervisor Sue Frost
On the heels of a new statewide mask mandate and the continued declaration of a COVID-19 state of emergency, it feels necessary to once again advocate for a population left seemingly voiceless throughout this saga. After a year of being forced out of the classroom, California children have returned only under the condition that they wear masks. Regardless of your perspective on the pandemic and experiences thus far, I think we all need to take a step back and thoroughly evaluate the benefits versus impacts of masking an entire generation during their developmental years. Rather than continue to hinder the ability to verbally and non-verbally communicate, it is long past due that we allow children to remove their masks and provide them with alternatives to protect against the airborne spreading of viruses.
If we heard it once, we have heard it a million times: follow the science. However, science tells us that the vast majority of children who get COVID have mild symptoms or no symptoms.. So, the masking of children cannot be about the children at all; instead, it is about preventing them from spreading the virus to adults. By now school staff who fall in an at-risk category have been advised to vaccinate or test regularly. In fact, teachers were given priority in the line to get vaccines. Getting teachers back in the classroom was just as crucial as getting kids back, but taking kids from virtual learning to masked learning is not much of an improvement. Children often report symptoms of shortness of breath, headache, nausea, vomiting, syncope, fear, anxiety, and depression as a result of masking up. Some children who have extenuating circumstances such as autistic disorder, cerebral palsy, lung disease, or hearing disorders, suffer a great trauma from masking. If we genuinely wish to unburden students from the social, mental, and physical impacts of the pandemic, we need to let them remove their masks.
I am sure we have all had conversations where someone or both people had to pull their masks away from their faces so the other person could understand what was being said. Imagine doing that through an entire school day. Masks make it difficult to hear or understand what someone is saying, but they also cover facial expressions. Children need to see a smile, a frown, or a silly face as part of their social development. They also need to show their expressions to feel seen and understood. The hindering of their social development has potentially severe long-term consequences. As things like depression and anxiety are already becoming more prevalent in our society, stunting the emotional growth of an entire generation seems like a dangerous decision to make. As we approach two years of this crisis, we need to think about how we may be creating new, potentially worse, problems.
If masks are intended to prevent the spread of the virus, there are alternatives to masking children such as classrooms getting better ventilation, and being provided with air filters. The health and safety of children should remain a priority, but that means every aspect of their health. When a child walks into their classroom, they should be entering an environment where they can learn, feel safe, and express themselves meaningfully.
Let adults shoulder the burden of government mandates and states of emergency and leave the children out of it. I sincerely hope that our Governor, our teachers, and all school officials would agree that the well-being of children should be a priority and that we can take on a little extra risk for ourselves to protect them.
Thank you for reading – and as always, if you want to contact me, call me at 916-874-5491, or e-mail me at SupervisorFrost@saccounty.net.
Sue Frost represents the 4th District, which includes all or part of the communities of Citrus Heights, Folsom, Orangevale, Antelope, Rio Linda, Elverta, Gold River, Rancho Murieta, North Highlands, Carmichael, Foothill Farms and Fair Oaks