Governor DeSantis gets both praise and vituperation from Florida citizens based on his efforts to prevent mask mandates in the schools. Which way should it be?
Sept. 3, our Charlotte County School Board met to discuss the issue, and chose to make masks not mandatory, but a personal choice. Did they do the right thing? Unfortunately, the COVID epidemic has become politicized to an extent never before seen relative to a transmissible disease, with the result of much smoke, irrationality, and downright bad science and very little attention to the careful research available on the subject.
First, let’s address the risk to young people of COVID. In the USA, UK, Italy, Germany, Spain, France, and South Korea, deaths from COVID-19 in children remains very rare, at 0.17 per 100, 000 population, or 1 death for every 588,235 children (Source: the Lancet). To put that in perspective, if masks were effective, we would need to mask about half the school districts in Florida to prevent one death.
But the previous sentence makes the assumption that masks can in fact stop the transmission of COVID. What does the science show concerning this? First of all, the size of the virus is about one-third the size of the pores of an N95 mask, the gold standard. As for cloth masks and the common blue paper masks, not even close! The virus is about 150 nanometers in size, and the typical masks at best have 80 micrometer gaps (about 500 times as large). These masks may give some people a sense of security, but they are as effective as putting up a chain link fence to keep out mosquitos.
The argument is made, however, that the aerosols expelled by an infected person will be caught in the mask. This has some validity, since a mask will become moist with use. However, that simply means that a water-bound virus might be caught be the mask in one breath, and then pushed out in the next. The same in reverse: a mask might catch an incoming virus, only to pass it on in in the next breath. There is no study that has dealt with this.
But the best science is that which deals with real people living real lives day-to-day. So we can and should compare COVID infection rates for states with, and without mask mandates. A study done by authors who expected to reach the opposite conclusion, found “Mask mandates and use are not associated with slower state-level COVID-19 spread during COVID-19 growth surges.” This is certainly to be expected, in the light of the considerations of the previous paragraph.
But in addition, there are negative effects of masks, especially with children. A recent study involving 25,930 children had the following results: “The average wearing time of the mask was 270 minutes per day. Impairments caused by wearing the mask were reported by 68% of the parents. These included irritability (60%), headache (53%), difficulty concentrating (50%), less happiness (49%), reluctance to go to school/kindergarten (44%), malaise (42%) impaired learning (38%) and drowsiness or fatigue (37%).”
Much of this is explained by Dr. Maguerite Griesz-Brisson, MD, PHD, a neurologist, who states “The rebreathing of our exhaled air will without a doubt create oxygen deficiency and a flooding of carbon dioxide. We know that the human brain is very sensitive to oxygen deprivation.” The brain requires high oxygenation to function properly, and extended deprivation can cause permanent effects. The present situation, for young developing children, at least deserves careful study before the politicians mindlessly decree the wearing of masks for very young children. Education is perhaps the most important function in any society. Why should we throw such impediments into the paths of our young in the face of contraindication for the practice?
In my opinion, our school board deserves a big pat on the back for making the right choice, as does Governor DeSantis. But I think there’s one more very valuable action they could take. A University or Chicago study shows that Vitamin D appears to very substantially reduce the risk of contracting COVID. But, 42% of Americans are Vitamin D deficient, so no doubt educating the public about Vitamin D can decrease the COVID infection rate. I recommend that the Charlotte County School Board look into this, and educate both parents and staff about Vitamin D. It is very inexpensive and readily available at any pharmacy or major grocery store.