Shocking exactly zero people who do not regularly use the words “Big Pharma,” two CDC studies recently found that universal masking in schools both prevents Covid outbreaks and slows community transmission.
In what civic-minded eighth graders could have slapped on poster board and graphed up for the science fair, the CDC compared schools in Maricopa and Pima counties with and without universal masking policies during July and August 2021. Controlling for outbreaks that occurred in the first week of school, schools with universal masking policies were roughly 3.7 times less likely to have a school-related Covid outbreak than schools without. In fact, while Covid outbreaks occurred in 191 schools, only 16 started in schools with early mask requirements. 62 began in schools that later implemented mask requirements. And 113 outbreaks (59.2%) happened in schools with no mask mandate all.
Let’s be fair. Our eighth graders may have had some trouble computing odds ratios.
The Delta variant, accounting for 99% of all American Covid cases, is believed to be twice as transmissible as previous variants, and may be more likely to lead to hospitalization. Delta has caused a rise in pediatric Covid cases: The New York Times reports that from June to mid-August, pediatric hospitalizations increased fivefold. Therefore, the CDC recommends “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”
This seems like a rational, reasoned approach to scientific data.
Except not, because scraps of face cloth have become political rallying points about ‘Murica and freedom and some serious white nonsense about civil rights. The CDC’s data was gathered in Arizona; last week, Dr. Richard Carmona, former U.S. surgeon general and top public health advisor for the state, said that debating universal masking mandates doesn’t benefit the public; it’s a “divisive” issue and he needs to “stay out of politics.”
Arguing for basic public health is not his job as Arizona’s top public health advisor, okay? He’s not supposed to get all political, and scraps of cloth are about politics, not “making sure your neighbors don’t die.” Which could be the motto for every public health initiative ever. We could stick it on mugs and hand them out to epidemiologists.
Universal Masking Also Slows Community Transmission
In more information we’ve been screaming about since last March, another CDC study showed that universal masking in schools slows community transmission rates. In data that should be a total slap on the forehead, the CDC ran lots of numbers and statistics only to conclude that counties whose schools had universal masking mandates experienced less pediatric Covid cases than counties whose schools lacked mask mandates.
Again, this data should shock exactly no one who believes in science. However, since a full 19% of American adults say they will refuse to get vaccinated against a pandemic that’s killed 1 in 500 Americans, we can rely on neither reason nor logic to maintain public health. The same poll shows that 91% of Democrats support universal masking in schools; compare that to only 32% of Republicans. Have we done enough science today to determine which party sides with truth, justice, and epidemiologists?
Stop The Politics
When multiple streams of scientific data scream that you’re wrong, you’re probably wrong. And being wrong hurts. We understand. Trump has made Republicans believe that when facts contradict constructed reality, they’d best double down on constructed reality, or their worldview might blow up. That could lead to existential crises like: maybe Covid is real and actually killing people, and when I do not wear a mask I might inadvertently kill people. Also maybe science is real, like They Might Be Giants warned us, and that imposition of logic onto other political wedge issues, like sex ed, could warp my fragile little mind.
Clearly, as most of us have been aware since this pandemic started: universal masking in schools helps stop Covid. Step back. Examine that statement. Why is it political? Why are people yelling that masks are child abuse? Wouldn’t not masking and hence potentially, willfully exposing your child to Covid be more likely to count as child abuse?
But it’s Opposite Day in the GOP, and has been for a long time.
Data, which should have been obvious before it was actual, math’ed up data, tells us that universal masking keeps kids safe from Covid. Therefore, shouldn’t we mask kids? Except not, because politics.
They are playing politics with kids’ lives. Delta is stuffing pediatric ICUs; PICUs are at or beyond capacity in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. No shock: many schools in those areas have no mask mandates. So if your kid does get Covid and require ICU-level care, you’re stuck. Like, “there is no bed for your child” stuck. Wouldn’t that make science deniers sit up straight? We don’t have a pediatric intensive care bed for your kid. Take them somewhere else.
Here’s an idea: if your kid wears a mask, maybe they won’t get Covid. Even better, if your kid and the kids around them wear masks, maybe none of them will get Covid. This sounds like a winning proposition all around, amiright? No child left behind! But as usual, right wing America remains far more concerned about fetal heartbeat laws than living children in PICU beds.
So despite data affirming liberals were right all along about universal masking mandates, there’s really little hope of change. No one’s going to seize these papers, whap their hand on their forehead, and lament, “We were wrong all along! Won’t someone mask the children?!” They’ll only claim we shouldn’t politicize public health, or the data is wrong, or kids can’t breathe under masks, which is a lie.
It might feel bad to be wrong, but in this case it doesn’t feel good to be right, either. It’s frustrating as hell that people won’t agree to universal masking mandates in schools, and giving us more data for ‘Murica to ignore only adds to that frustration. Certain parts of ‘Murica believe truth is in the eye of the beholder. If they don’t like a narrative — factual or not — it’s false. So we politely hand them all the data we want. We won’t change minds.
Like these studies, that should shock no one.