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Mask Mandates Back in Philadelphia 


I live in Philadelphia, now officially proven to be one of the dumbest cities ever, as noted by Brownstone contributor and master mask myth debunker Ian Miller.

On Monday, May 23rd 2022, the city reimposed mask mandates in all public schools. The announcement in the Philadelphia Inquirer was particularly ludicrous. In it, the school district’s superintendent said “the decision came at the recommendation of the city health department [PDPH].” But the same article mentioned the PDPH spokesperson saying, “the department made no specific recommendation that triggered the change.”

In other words, in a school district with almost 200,000 students and over 17,000 staff, everyone from now on will have to wear a mask based on… what exactly?

The only metric provided anywhere for the new mask mandate is in the school district’s press release: “COVID-19 case counts continue to rise in the Philadelphia area.” There is no information on how much cases are rising, what level triggers universal masking in schools, what level would allow the mandate to end, or any other data at all.

Then I found a May 19th article in The Inquirer quoting “city health officials” who said a mask mandate in the city “was no longer warranted because vaccinations and natural immunity from prior infections meant COVID cases were less frequently resulting in serious illness.”

If this was the case on May 19th, did something change on May 20th when the school mask mandate was announced?

I tried calling and emailing the school district and PDPH multiple times to ask who made the new mask mandate decision and what it was based on, but nobody answered. 

So, basically, the new mask mandate in Philadelphia schools that affects nearly a quarter of a million city residents is based on nobody’s recommendation and on no specific metrics.

I also tried sending the following article to The Inquirer to explain why this was so ludicrous. Nobody responded. So I’m sharing it with Brownstone readers, in case you need some hard data to lob at mushy mandates, and also because no one else wants to publish real data about mask mandates and about Covid in children. I do not address the issue of the total uselessness of mask mandates in general. I stick to the question of whether mask mandates at this point in time make any sense. One step at a time…

Mandating Masks in Schools Now is Nonsensical

Here we go again. Just a short month ago Philly became a laughing stock as the only city in the country to try to reinstate mask mandates, only to rescind the mandate four days later. No bad outcomes of rescinding the mandate have been reported. If it had been allowed to continue, it would have been pointless.

Yet here we are: Mask mandates are reimposed in Philadelphia’s schools starting Monday, May 23. According to the Inquirer, Superintendent Hite said in an email to staff, “the coronavirus continues to evolve and so too will our response to it.” He called for working “together to minimize spread.” Let’s examine those two statements and how they correspond with our current situation.

It is true that the SARS-Cov-2 virus continues to evolve, as should our response to it. In fact, it has evolved so much that it has managed to infect at least 60% of us, and we will all inevitably get it multiple times from now on. That is why, as Dr. Fauci announced on April 26th to surprisingly little fanfare, “We are certainly right now in this country out of the pandemic phase.” Which means that the measures we used during the pandemic to try to slow transmission, flatten the curve, etc. are no longer necessary. The goal is no longer to “minimize spread.” Covid has or will spread to all of us. This applies to all mask mandates, not just in schools.

But let’s look specifically at mask mandates in schools. There are some vital Covid facts that bear on this issue, many of which have not been well publicized or explained:

FACT #1: Deaths in children from Covid are extremely rare.

In the entire United States of America, over the last 26 months, 1,045 children under age 18 (out of approximately 73 million) have died of Covid. That’s between 0% and 0.28% of all reported Covid deaths. It means children under 18 have less than 2 in 100,000 chances of dying of Covid, which is lower than their risk of dying of child abuse or car accidents.

FACT #2: Covid very rarely causes children to be hospitalized.

Approximately 0.1 -1.5% of Covid cases in children in the U.S. have resulted in hospitalizations.

FACT #3: Most children in the U.S. have already been exposed to SARS-CoV-2.

Recent data show that over 75% of children in the country have been exposed to the virus, and this exposure confers at least as much immunity as vaccination. 

FACT #4: Case counts in children vastly outnumber severe outcomes.

The data show that about 19% of all Covid cases reported in the U.S. are in children, yet there are almost no hospitalizations or deaths in this age group.

It logically follows that the number of Covid cases detected in schools is irrelevant in terms of public health mandates. Even if there is a “surge” in cases, there will not be a corresponding increase in severe illness or death. This was true even before vaccinations and widespread exposure. Now that children have these additional protections, they are almost never going to suffer severe consequences from Covid exposure.

So, based on these facts, we most definitely do not need mask mandates in schools to protect children. Is there a reason to mask children to protect grown-ups? The answer to this question is also decidedly no. In Philly, 77% of people over 12 are fully vaccinated, as are 29% of children ages 5 to 11. Added to the 75% of children who have already been exposed (some both exposed and vaccinated), there is broad protective immunity in the system, which means a very low risk of anyone getting seriously ill or dying. Yes, kids and teachers can still test positive. Case numbers can climb. But almost nobody will get sick or die. 

This should be good news, especially for parents who have been worried about their children throughout the pandemic and teachers who have been worried about exposure to the virus at schools. It’s time to stop worrying. It’s OK to take the masks off.

Finally, mask mandates are not a harmless intervention, especially in children. Numerous studies have found harms in masking children which include physical discomfort, social, psychological and developmental issues. It’s unclear where the idea that mask mandates have no downsides came from. For example, for all people (not just children) with hearing or speaking impairments, autism, and other communication challenges, wearing masks can be a severe hardship. We need to adjust our thinking on that subject before we do any more harm.

So, to return to Superintendent Hite’s comments: imposing mask mandates is actually an outdated solution for a problem that no longer exists. It’s time – for the sake of our kids, our families and our communities — to follow the actual data and stop with the harmful policies that no longer serve any public health purpose. Mask mandates are simply no longer necessary. We should all be thankful.

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  • Debbie Lerman

    Debbie Lerman, 2023 Brownstone Fellow, has a degree in English from Harvard. She is a retired science writer and a practicing artist in Philadelphia, PA.

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