Have you ever run three miles in the pouring rain wearing a soaking wet face mask?  Hopefully, the answer is no. However, at the West Chester Area School District, the high school sports teams are requiring student athletes to wear masks, even while running in the pouring rain. 

Rachel Langan, the mother of two students in a West Chester Area School District high school, said that one of her son’s complained that he felt like he was being waterboarded and her other son stated that he felt like he was drowning.  Another local student from a different high school, whose family requested anonymity, told his mother that he also felt like he was being waterboarded.

How is it possible that this is happening? Prior to Covid, coaches forcing students atheletes to wear masks while running could have made them liable for child abuse. But today, this behavior is being sanctioned by school districts. 

What is the point of wearing masks outside, or at all, if students still have to quarantine after coming within six feet of another student who tests positive?

The Chester County Health Department told me via email that masking requirements for sports are regulated by the PIAA and the state government. However, even the overly restrictive state guidelines allow for the removal of masks during outdoor sports, “If sustained six-foot distancing can be maintained, face coverings may be removed when outdoors.” Similarly, the PIAA has stated that “if sustained 6-foot distancing can be maintained, face coverings may be removed when outdoors.”

Despite these facts, the West Chester Area School District seems to believe that masks are required at all times. And not only that, but if a masked student comes into close contact with another masked student during either school or sports and one of the students tests positive for Covid, they require both students to quarantine. This stance is not unique to West Chester. Many districts in the region are also forcing students to both attend school and play sports while wearing masks and forcing them to quarantine if they come into close contact with another masked student who tests positive. 

If the self-contradiction isn’t apparent to you already, I’ll make it plain: What is the point of wearing masks outside, or at all, if students still have to quarantine after coming within six feet of another student who tests positive?  Do the masks prevent transmission or not?  If the answer is yes, masks prevent transmission, then it would be logical that two masked athletes would not need to be six feet apart, nor would they need to quarantine if they did get close to one another. The same would hold true for school. 

Local school districts and health departments are, evidently, acting as if masks don’t work while implementing policies that are based on the idea that they do.

Local school districts and health departments are, evidently, acting as if masks don’t work while implementing policies that are based on the idea that they do. This is likely because the media and elected officials continue to insist that wearing masks is one of the most important measures in reducing the spread of the virus. 

But scientists are telling a different story. And their evidence has been mounting.  

At least three random controlled trials (the highest level of evidence) published in peer reviewed scientific journals in 2020 found no evidence that cloth face coverings reduce respiratory disease transmission. At least four meta or systemic analyses, published in peer reviewed scientific journals in 2020, covering more than 40 prior published peer reviewed randomized control trials, found no evidence that cloth face coverings reduce respiratory disease. At least one randomized control trial found that cloth face coverings increase transmission risk. And there are concerns with oxygen deprivation, particularly during exercise, unknown physical risks from micro-plastic inhalation from fabrics, surface bacteria collection, and moisture absorbing properties of cloth face coverings. 

There are also unknown psychological risks from prolonged mask use, despite Covid not being at a significant risk to children. A study in the Journal of American Medical Association that assessed Covid and other leading causes of death among various age groups found that between March and December 2020, the Covid mortality rate among children ages 5-14 was about one per million. By contrast, transport accidents accounted for 15 times that mortality rate, and children in the same age range were roughly 10 times more likely to die by suicide, 12 times more likely to die from cancer and two times more likely to die from heart disease than from COVID, according to the data.

Contrary to this mounting evidence, the forced masking of children while outside is not limited to school sports. Nor does it seem likely to end any time soon. The Chester County Boy Scout Council, for example, announced that scouts will be required to wear masks while at overnight summer camp. Camp Horseshoe is an annual event for many Boy Scouts in the region. It is a week-long experience where Scouts are outdoors working on merit badges, camping, hiking, swimming, etc.

Imagine large groups of middle and high school boys outside sweating in 90 degree weather and wearing masks. Is wearing a mask under those conditions really healthy? No. Is it truly helpful in preventing the spread of a virus? No. How well will each Scout hydrate while they are masked up all day in the sweltering heat? Likely not well. What are the unintended consequences of wearing masks outside in the heat or during physical activity? Probably many. 

The evidence that mask mandates for anyone, and especially for children, should continue beyond that point is not compelling at all. And the unintended consequences of forcing children to wear masks for a large part of their day is borderline criminal. 

Again, these directives would have previously been viewed as barbaric and abusive. Especially since children are at an extraordinarily small risk of dying from Covid and there is little evidence, if any, to show that masking reduces that small risk any further. 

The one-year mark of Covid shutdowns has passed, and we are approaching the one-year mark of mask mandates in this commonwealth. The evidence that mask mandates for anyone, and especially for children, should continue beyond that point is not compelling at all. And the unintended consequences of forcing children to wear masks for a large part of their day are borderline criminal. 

Extraordinary mandates require extraordinary evidence, and it is clear that the evidence is anything but extraordinary.  

Beth Ann Rosica, Ph.D., a parent in the West Chester Area School District and an advocate for educationally disadvantaged students across the country, has a private consulting business in the Education and Human Services field.

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