Mask mandates are disappearing in a lot of jurisdictions, school mask mandates among them. I don’t actually have strong views about the precise timing of when mask mandates should disappear in schools. Now? A few weeks after March break? In September? I think any of these options might be reasonable. But while I think the exact timing is unclear, and I absolutely believe that masks in school reduce transmission, I also think it’s time for mask mandates to go.
My belief is not so much about the masks themselves, but rather everything that along with them. My kid has spent the last two years in a kindergarten without sandboxes or water tables or toys, because they preclude social distancing. His report card doesn’t mention how well he shares, but does say he “is aware of the physical distance needed to keep safe.” Like every other kid across the Toronto District School Board, he endures the indignity of “silent lunch,” where children are expected to sit in silence during their lunch hour, because their masks are off to eat, so talking would be too high-risk. The costs of masks in school are so much more than just wearing something over your face — it’s the whole apparatus of risk containment that has up-ended school life. Meanwhile, the benefits of mask-wearing in isolation are surely overstated for the youngest children. My child chews literal holes his masks.
I am open to the idea that if hospital capacity is stressed, we should put the masks back on temporarily as a way to contain community spread. But I’m not open to the notion that we should prevent normal play and interaction in schools over a period of years, and I think taking the masks off is necessary to shift the mindset in classrooms.