No Surprise: Mask Mandates Still Don’t Help Kids

Featured image by Dan Gaken


As More School Boards Around The State Mandate Masks, What Does The Science Show About The Effectiveness Of Masks To Stop The Spread Of Covid Among Children?

August 26, 2021

By Lexi Dittrich

On July 27, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a major reversal of their previous guidance on mask-wearing. Where just a few months ago they announced that people who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 could take off their masks in public, their July guidance said that masks need to be worn universally indoors. Even if you’re vaccinated, and even if you are a kid.

“Due to the circulating and highly contagious Delta variant, CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status,” the CDC now says

Similarly, Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services (DHS) has singled out schools specifically to resume universal masking policies. “If we wanna make schools as safe as possible, doing so requires we have everyone wear a mask – staff, students, and visitors,” said DHS’ Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard on August 19

As kids are heading back to school this month (thankfully in-person and on-site for the most part) we have fielded a lot of questions from parents asking if the science shows that children should be required to wear masks at school. MacIver Columnist Dan O’Donnel already wrote about this topic in late July, but we felt an update was needed to give parents the knowledge necessary to discuss with School Boards whether mandatory masking is in the best interest of the children. 

The sudden switch back to masking is not and has not been supported by the science, even as the Delta variant spreads. The public health establishment has often claimed that there is a “growing body of evidence” that says mask-wearing and mask mandates will stop the spread of COVID-19, but there is no conclusive evidence to back up that claim, only editorials and observational studies. On the contrary, data spanning across several decades indicates that face masks are ineffective at blocking the spread of respiratory viruses. There is no reason to believe that COVID-19 is the sole exception to this decades-old conclusion. 

Ontario Civil Liberties Association researcher and former tenured professor at the University of Ottawa, Dr. Denis G. Rancourt, wrote a meta-analysis of several decades of studies on the effectiveness of masks against respiratory illnesses. Dr. Rancourt found that “No [randomized controlled trial] study with verified outcome shows a benefit for [healthcare workers] or community members in households to wearing a mask or respirator. There is no such study. There are no exceptions.” 

“Likewise,” Rancourt says, “no study exists that shows a benefit from a broad policy to wear masks in public.” 

This is because respiratory virus particles are too small for face mask materials, including that of N95 masks, to block. Any single, tiny droplet that escapes from a mask can have a large enough viral load to infect someone. The Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, knew this and told us just as much at the beginning of the pandemic when he said masks would not be as effective at blocking respiratory droplets as people thought.



Real-world data shows masks are not very effective on a population level either. COVID-19 cases have gone up and down in similar seasonal patterns across the globe, regardless of whether a nation implemented mask mandates or not. Just a few of the examples below show mask mandates appear to have had very little effect in mitigating COVID-19 cases and deaths throughout 2020 (graphs via The Federalist).

What’s clearer still is that masking kids in school is not as effective as public health officials would have you believe. Despite what Dr. Westergaard and others said recently about masks making our schools safe and protecting our children, there is not a preponderance of evidence that backs up that claim.

The CDC released a study on May 28, 2021 that considered over 90,000 kids attending 169 K-5th grade schools in Georgia. The study looked at several mitigation measures, like school mask mandates, and compared the spread of COVID-19 between schools that had these measures versus schools that did not. The data showed that universal masking in schools didn’t do much to reduce the spread of COVID-19 among students, nor did other mitigation measures in schools like distancing or hybrid classes. The Georgian schools that did require universal masking saw 2.4 cases of COVID-19 per 500 kids. Schools that did not require universal masking saw about 3.8 cases of COVID-19 per 500 kids. 

The insignificant difference between schools with and without mask mandates could be because masks are unnecessary for kids in the first place. Studies have shown time and time again that kids are less likely to catch COVID-19 than adults. Kids are also shown to not be major spreaders of COVID-19, not in school or at home

The Delta variant doesn’t seem to have changed any of these facts. 

During the height of the Delta surge in the United Kingdom, schools remained open, and most of them without mask mandates. Brown University economics professor Emily Oster writes that UK children up to age 11 only showed a 2% COVID-19 positivity rate during that Delta surge. 

Oster says that kids in the UK faced a 1 in 200 chance of hospitalization and one in 20,000–80,000 chance of death from the Delta variant. Those odds are very similar to the ones faced by UK kids who get the flu or other respiratory viruses. 

The Delta variant does not change the fact that kids are very unlikely to get severely ill or die from COVID-19, and they are unlikely to catch COVID-19 from their peers at school. 

In populous places like California, the data is showing that kids are not catching or spreading COVID-19 in their schools either. A study of kids in the Los Angeles School district during summer school found that, after 5 weeks of in-person classes with 44,000 kids, only 174 students, or 0.4%, became infected with COVID-19. Only 0.03% of all students who attended LA summer school (12 kids) appear to have caught the virus at school. 

As you can see, even in places with high case counts, kids are still not the main sources of infection, nor are they getting infected in droves. That’s great news for adults and for the unvaccinated. 

The better news is that, if kids catch the virus, they are very unlikely to suffer severe symptoms or death. As of August 23, there have been around 12,300 hospitalizations for COVID-19 among Wisconsin kids ages 0-19. That’s 3.5% of all hospitalizations for COVID in the state. Only three adolescents between ages 10-19 have died with COVID-19 in Wisconsin. No COVID-related deaths have occurred among kids ages 0-9. That means, in ages 0-19, kids have a 0.003% chance of dying from COVID-19 if they catch it. 

Across the United States, less than 400 kids aged 0-17 have died with COVID-19 since the pandemic hit about a year and a half ago. That’s less than the flu, which, on average, kills about 456 kids per year. Writing for New York Magazine, David Wallace-Wells says that, “In 2019, more than 2,000 American kids and teenagers died in car crashes; each year, according to some estimates, about a thousand die from drowning.” COVID-19 does not appear to be putting kids at any greater risk than they were before the pandemic began. 

So kids are comparatively safe from COVID-19, and very few of them spread or die from the disease if they do get it. That’s great news that should be comforting to Americans. It also shows that masking is really unnecessary for the kids. 

Yet, as the Delta variant spreads, disquieted public health officials, school boards, and administrators, among others, are insisting that everyone in school needs to mask up again, including the kids and the vaccinated.

But DHS’ own data shows that the vaccine seems to be lowering people’s risk of severe disease if they do get a breakthrough case of COVID-19. DHS recently released data suggesting that the vaccinated are indeed still getting infected with COVID-19, but rates of infection, hospitalizations, and death from the virus are lower for the vaccinated over the unvaccinated. Great! The vaccine is doing its job. This means that the vaccinated, including teachers who got the shot, are generally quite safe from COVID-19 and the Delta variant. 

Chart depicting cases, hospitalizations, and deaths among those vaccinated for COVID-19 and those unvaccinated for COVID-19. Via Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Teachers have had access to the COVID-19 vaccine for the past half a year. They have had their chance to get the drug, and should be unafraid to go back to school now that they are shielded from getting COVID from anybody, including from their students. They’re also more protected from getting severely ill if they do somehow get infected at school (which would be strange, since schools don’t tend to be the vectors of widespread infection).

Nevertheless, the CDC is still recommending kids, staff, and visitors mask in schools. 

For the above reasons, this is ridiculous and unfounded. Why should students be required to mask up around their already immunized teachers? Why should kids be treated like superspreaders when the data just doesn’t back that up?

Sadly, as masks are pushed on the children for another school year, the data continues to show that masks are hurting your kids far more than they are helping them.

In one German study of around 26,000 school kids, approximately 68% had problems wearing face masks in schools, ranging from impaired learning, to headaches, to fatigue, to reluctance to go to school. Other research has shown that kids who wear face masks are inhaling unsafe levels of carbon dioxide.

“This carbon dioxide mixes with fresh air and elevates the carbon dioxide content of inhaled air under the mask,” JAMA for Pediatrics researchers concluded in their study. “This was more pronounced in this study for younger children. The normal CO2 limit is 0.04 percent. The upper safety limit is 0.2 percent. Children wearing masks were getting sometimes as much as 1.6 percent.”

The masks are unreasonable and ineffective. They harm kids’ learning abilities while doing no favors for their health in return. All mask mandates seem to do is make some public health officials and school officials feel important and give some parents perhaps a false sense of safety.

Parents should be the ones making the choice to mask or unmask their children and that debate should be centered around data and science, not the generic and empty platitudes being used today. 

The kids are safe, and they deserve much better this school year.