The Evidence Supporting Mask Mandates in Schools Is Weaker Than Biden Pretends
Wading into the bitter debate about face mask mandates in schools, President Joe Biden is threatening civil rights lawsuits against states that ban such requirements. “Some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures…into political disputes for their own political gain,” Biden complained last week, saying his administration won’t “sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children.”
Biden’s framing implies that school officials are indisputably “protecting our children” by forcing them to cover their faces all day and that anyone who suggests otherwise is motivated only by crass partisan motives. Yet the evidence that the public health benefits of “universal masking” in K-12 schools outweigh its costs is far less impressive than the president suggests.
Other governments seem to recognize that fact. As David Zweig notes in New York magazine, “many of America’s peer nations around the world—including the U.K., Ireland, all of Scandinavia, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy—have exempted kids, with varying age cutoffs, from wearing masks in classrooms” without experiencing more school-related COVID-19 outbreaks than the U.S. has seen.
The latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by contrast, recommends that everyone, regardless of age or vaccination status, wear face masks in K‒12 schools. But the studies the CDC cites to justify that stance generally were not designed to test the effectiveness of mask mandates.
One problem with those studies is that the schools they examined typically implemented several COVID-19 safeguards simultaneously, so there was no way of knowing whether any perceived benefits could be attributed specifically to masking. Another problem: Almost none of the studies compared schools with mask mandates to otherwise similar schools without them, again making causal inferences impos
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