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America Tells Kids to Mask in School - But Most of the Western World Does Not

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In 68.2 percent of the 500 biggest school districts in the United States, students are still required to wear masks in school, according to data from community tracker Burbio.

To those who just view U.S. media, this shouldn’t come as a shock. After all, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, has made it clear even vaccinated kids still need to mask up.

“We still have about 85 percent of our counties that are in high or substantial community transmission,” Walensky said during an appearance on “NBC Nightly News” on Thursday.

“And so, while I’m encouraged that numbers are coming down, I would say as our children are starting to get vaccinated, just a week into this program, to continue to scale up our vaccinations for these children and to not yet get complacent with our mitigation and prevention strategies that are keeping our children in school.”

“So that means kids should continue to wear masks even if they’re vaccinated?” Holt asked.

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“And I would say masks are for now,” Walensky said, “but they are not forever.”

And yet, while the CDC continues to promise the masks aren’t forever but need to be worn for now, the United States is one of the few countries in the Western world that still forces its students to mask up in the classroom.

According to a Wednesday report in the U.K. Daily Mail, only seven countries in the West still recommend kids wear masks in school. Meanwhile, in at least 14 other countries, there is no masking requirement.

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“Aside from the U.S., could only identify six other Western countries where masking is broadly required or recommended in schools: Canada, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Spain,” the paper reported.

Canada leaves it up to individual provinces, all 10 of which have some kind of masking requirement. France had lifted its masking requirement previously, but it’s being re-instituted for elementary school students as of Nov. 15.

The other four countries started the school year with a mask requirement in place on a national scale.

However, in most other countries, they’ve been — as we like to say in these parts — following the science.

The Daily Mail noted that studies have shown that while minors test positive just as frequently as adults, about half are asymptomatic (compared with roughly 10 percent of those over 18) and that only 0.1 percent of school-age children experience serious illness or die from COVID-19.

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“And because of this low risk, most Western nations have opted to ditch the masks and have kids return to ‘normalcy’ in classrooms,” the Daily Mail reported.

“In the UK, for example, millions of children returned to schools in early September with face coverings not required.

“And while masks are a politically divisive issue in the U.S., members of both the Conservative and Labour Parties in the UK have stated that wearing masks prevent children from being able to communicate and socialize.”

How has that worked out for them? In the United States, children are being hospitalized at four times higher rates than in the United Kingdom.

The paper provided three potential answers for why the mask mandates aren’t in place in other Western countries.

The first postulate: higher vaccination rates. “For example, West Virginia and Idaho have yet to vaccinate 50 percent of their populations compared to more than 70 percent in all Nordic countries, according to data from the U.S. CDC and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control,” the Daily Mail reported.

However, this one doesn’t necessarily hold water; according to U.S. News and World Report, neither West Virginia nor Idaho has statewide school mask mandates.

Of the eight states that outright ban school mask mandates, only one had a fully vaccinated rate above 60 percent as of Friday, according to the Mayo Clinic — Florida. Meanwhile, of the states that require masks in school, only one had a fully vaccinated rate under 60 percent: Kentucky.

Therefore, issue number two is a bit more likely: In most Western countries, particularly in the European Union, there’s a higher degree of trust in authority figures. Paradoxically, this often leads to less regulation and freer societies. As Nick Gillespie — editor at large for libertarian publication Reason — pointed out in a Daily Beast piece back in 2016, research shows citizens in countries where authority figures are trusted want less intervention from authority figures.

Meanwhile, in the United States — where one can distinctly recall a recent gubernatorial candidate saying parents shouldn’t be deciding what the state teaches their children — one can see how this would lead to education and political officials who botched in-person learning policy and public health dictums being handed more control over it, despite having proved themselves to be unworthy of the task.

Finally, the Daily Mail noted children in other Western countries are tested more often.

“Currently the UK’s Department of Education requires all secondary school students, between ages 11 and 18, be tested at home twice a week using tests,” they reported. “Additionally, Norway is mass testing students to phase out quarantining students amid Covid outbreaks.”

All of these are valuable lessons — but then, the most valuable should be that we’re an outlier when it comes to school mask mandates and we shouldn’t be. There’s little evidence they serve a public health good, particularly among vaccinated children, and with other alternatives at hand. Psychologically, they’ve done far more harm than good.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture