This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.
Not only are Covid-19 mask mandates unnecessary for children, but they can be quite harmful, according to the research of scientists and medical professionals who are part of a volunteer coalition continuing their call for policy changes in elementary and secondary schools.
“Urgency of Normal” was founded in January 2022 in response to growing concerns about the impact Covid-19 policies on the mental and physical health of school age children. Most recently, the group has called for ending mask mandates as a rejoinder to the reintroduction of the policies in various school districts across the country. The Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey school districts, for instance, announced in December that they would require students to wear masks after returning from winter break this January. Both school districts are expected to lift the mandates this week. Paterson, New Jersey, lifted its mask mandate on Tuesday, January 17
“Children need to see faces and mouths to learn how to speak, and how to develop and regulate their emotions,” Natalya Murakhver, a New York City mother, and co-founder of Restore Childhood, a nationwide child advocacy group, said in an interview. “There’s evidence for increased speech delay for children who have been masked at school.”
Urgency of Normal’s toolkit and advocacy has challenged the findings of well-established agencies like Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, in addition to local government agencies.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends masking children who cannot even speak yet,” Murakhver said. “They have even claimed masking doesn’t impact speech delays, but the evidence is not on their side. Previously they communicated how important it is for children to see caregivers’ faces, but over the course of the pandemic, they scrubbed this from their website.”
Broad + Liberty contacted the Academy and asked for comment on its masking policy, but the Academy had not responded at the time this report went to press.
“I would like to see an end to all mandates, including Covid-19 vaccine mandates, as they apply to children,” Murakhver said. “Children and college students should also be able to participate in all school and extracurricular activities regardless of whether they have gotten the vaccination or any of the boosters.”
“The real risks to children come not from Covid, but from the Covid response in blue areas of this country that have embraced so quickly and unscientifically,” she said. “It will take years to unravel all of these policies and their impacts, but children don’t have years because you have only one first grade and one high school graduation. These are precious moments that are finite.”
On January 6 of this year, the volunteer group issued a press release reaffirming its evidence-based opposition to school mask mandates. Their original “advocacy toolkit” was released in January 2022 and was entitled “Children, COVID and the Urgency of Normal.” The toolkit includes data for parents, students, teachers, and administrators, and is regularly updated.
“Since releasing our toolkit, we’ve seen many of those restrictions disappear and children return to varying degrees of normalcy in school and extracurricular activities,” the January release says. Urgency of Normal also cites evidence substantiating its concerns about mask mandates.
“Limited facial observation due to masking of teachers and peers should not be discounted as harmless, especially in young children and those with special needs,” the release says. “When faces are hidden, a child’s natural learning is compromised. Masking mandates in schools are anticipated to have the largest negative impacts on students learning English as a second language, with learning and/or mental health disorders and students with other special needs.” The release also links back to surveys that indicate masks make the learning process much more arduous for students than it has to be.
In June 2022, Urgency of Normal sent an open letter addressed to Dr Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, and Dr. Rochelle Walansky, the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.
“Our nation’s children suffered tremendous learning loss as a result of prolonged school closures and are battling a well-documented mental health crisis, and ongoing Covid-19 testing and isolation periods are causing additional harm,” the letter says. “Time away from school is known to negatively impact students and contribute to long-term school absenteeism, as seen during the 2020-21 school year when attendance rates dropped significantly compared to pre-pandemic years.”
The letter was signed by a wide range of medical professionals and parental organizations who would like the CDC to update its current guidelines to reflect contemporary realities.
Murakhver, the New York parent, views Pennsylvania as an important player in potential policy changes that could work to the advantage of school age children.
“In the blue states like California and New York there’s still an effort to bring back Covid vaccine and mask mandates despite some serious pushback from parents,” she said. “It seems like these bureaucrats and elected officials in blue states want to keep the people in a perpetual state of emergency. That’s why we desperately need independent common-sense public health voices who follow data and question ‘the science,’ without bowing to the political science.”
While Urgency of Normal started with a primary focus on elementary and secondary education, they are now also collaborating with No College Mandates and student groups to support campaigns that highlight the challenges in higher education that stem from Covid policies.