According to the doctors – Tufts Medical Center epidemiologist Shira Doron, Harvard Medical School professor Westyn Branch-Elliman, and Boston Medical Center infectious disease management director Elissa Perkins -- respirators like N95 masks were found to be more protective than surgical or cloth masks. Since these high-quality masks are highly effective at protecting the wearer, it makes the old COVID-19 mantra "my mask protects you" "obsolete."
"As a result, schools can finally safely make masks optional for students and staff," they stated.
The doctors admitted that it’s time for the U.S. to finally advance forward in the pandemic with a mindset of personal protection, while taking advantage of the many tools that have been developed since 2020.
"We urge public health and school officials to educate communities on one-way masking, emphasizing personal choice regarding self-protection and supporting those who choose to remain masked," they said. "It’s time we stopped worrying about what others are doing and started focusing on protecting ourselves."
"Our children have sacrificed a lot to protect us," they continued. "Now it’s time for us to give them their childhood back."
The physicians argued that even though universal masking policies were an essential step to reopening America’s schools – critical for kids' health and well-being – strict masking regulations came with severe cost. The group claimed that students being unable to see the faces of their teachers for nearly two years has disrupted learning and development.
"Maintaining aggressive mitigation policies, including strident mask rules, also sends children, families and staff the message that schools are not safe," they said. "This is simply not true."
Even though children have been "nothing short of amazing" when it comes to adhering to masking policies, the doctors revealed that many have caught on to pandemic fatigue with "no hope of normalcy" on the horizon.
But what’s become even more alarming, they said, is punitive mask culture. This could include older students being given detention for "mask slippage" or younger children being forced to follow harsh rules at lunchtime like eating in total silence, or being revoked the opportunity to relieve stress during recess to avoid "increased exhalation."
"The news about COVID-19 and schools has been relentlessly negative, only compounding these issues and encouraging increasingly harsh restrictions in schools," the authors said. "This tells students that they are disease vectors while failing to recognize that they are also growing children in need of social interactions for proper development."
"There is a youth mental health crisis in this country, yet punitive actions that limit social interaction and normal life continue."
The health professionals suggested the Biden administration should feel motivated to distribute 400 million respirators in reaction to the new guidance, since now "everyone has the tools to protect themselves."