Let’s Talk About Masks

When COVID hit, I thought that we needed to close schools for two weeks, but then prioritize kids, over other forms of businesses and activities. Close bars, open schools was my motto. Opening schools was so important to me that I was willing to tolerate whatever safety measures — both real safety precautions and hygiene theater alike — just to get bums in chairs in schools.

Now schools are open for the most part, except for in evil places like Flint, Michigan. So, the debate has now turned to masks, and I’ve been forced to think about them. Yesterday, I tweeted:

That tweet is getting too much attention; I had to mute the thread, because my phone was constantly buzzing me. And some of the responses were from woo-woo’s. So, let’s chat about it here. No woo-woo’s allowed.

On Monday, a judge on Long Island ruled that the governor’s mask mandate in schools was unlawful. By Wednesday, the mandate was back in effect, but that might be temporary. I’m not sure. Things are in flux. I have friends who teach out there, and they are very concerned.

Meanwhile, the anti-mask people here in New Jersey are energized by this decision and are heavily lobbying state and local officials to change their policy. They said that their children’s rights are being violated, and that school officials are hypocritical. They are re-posting pictures that teachers are putting up on social media of themselves maskless, while on vacations and at conferences and with their families in the community. They are asking why the kids have to be masked all day, when the teachers are maskless everywhere else.

So, where am I on all of this? Personally, masks don’t bother me, because I only have to use them for a few minutes a day. We wore them a lot while in Vermont, because they kept our faces warm. They have no impact on three of us here.

While Ian, my son with autism, doesn’t have any sensory issues with masks and never complains about them, his social skills have become really bad since the pandemic. It’s mostly because of isolation and the complete breakdown of public school’s special education programs. Masks probably don’t help either. Because he has autism, Ian uses all sorts of clues to understand a context of a situation. If he can’t see your smile, for example, he has a very hard time knowing if you are joking or being serious. It impairs his ability to connect with the larger world, and he is shutting down.

Younger kids are also suffering because of masks. The number of kids needing speech therapy and developing reading disabilities is huge; experts think it’s related to masks. And then doing any sort of therapy on kids with speech issues is totally impossible with a barrier over the mouth of the student and the therapist. Ian would never have learned to talk at all, if he had to wear a mask during speech therapy when he was three. He would be permanently damaged.

Would all this damage be okay, if we kept people safe? Perhaps. I would say that kids should get the attention right now, but it’s a debate worth having. However, it’s not clear that these masks actually keep people safe. Dr. Fauci now says that cloth masks are basically useless. There is absolutely no way that our country will agree to medical grade masks on children at this point, so it’s cloth or nothing.

So, let’s look at the big picture. Masks are only mandated in schools. This weekend, I was in a jazz club (no masks), church (no masks), restaurants (no masks), stores (no masks). Really, schools are the ONLY place in our area that masks are mandated. Cloth masks only have marginal protection value. Meanwhile, the world is awash with the highly contagious omicron. It’s everywhere. Half of my friends and family got it last month. It’s almost impossible to avoid it. So people, including teachers and kids, are getting it at their gyms, parties, supermarkets. I sat maskless across a restaurant table from a teacher this weekend. People are bringing it into schools. But we’re all vaxxed, so most of us are bouncing back and returning to work and life with a slightly stronger immune system. More people died from suicide or opiates last week than died from COVID.

These masks just don’t seem to work well on a good day. With omicron, masks in schools feels like hygiene theater to me. But it’s hygiene theater with real, serious damage to young people and kids with disabilities. Since my family has bigger fish to fry right now, I wouldn’t go to the mat to fight for ending mask mandates, but I can’t help but tweet my skepticism, too.

81 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Masks

  1. While I agree that cloth masks are not optimal, and that higher-grade masks are more useful (though also more of a pain because they can be expensive), I don’t see them as “hygiene theater.” Schools are among the few places where people share the same room for hours at a time, not the relatively short periods in a restaurant or concert. Hard to avoid being in intimate contact with others in an elementary school classroom. This is also an involuntary environment for many because children are usually required to go to school. Kids below 5 cannot be vaccinated (yet), and we all know that many parents have chosen not to have their children vaccinated even if they are eligible. While children usually get milder cases of Covid, they are as much a vector as adults in confined spaces, from what I have read. I do think accommodations can be made for those with IEPs that need various kinds of therapies that can only be conducted by looking at the students’ faces.


    1. My husband is going back to an office next week. Masks will be optional. I just came from a gym. The gym workers are there all day. Nobody is wearing a mask. At the jazz club, the waiters and bartenders are there all night in a very confined space. No mask. So, why are schools the only place where people have to wear masks. Is it because of the kids? Well, kids are in all those places, too. They are playing indoor basketball. No masks. Most parents don’t want their kids masked anymore. I just don’t get it.


    2. We are still masking in indoor spaces in my neck of the woods, so schools are not special in this regard. We have required masks in stores and stadiums. Restaurants and bars I haven’t been to during omicron, and indeed, they are open and one can’t eat and drink a mask, so I would expect those spaces to have unmasked adults.

      I went to senior night for my son’s wrestling; the wrestlers are tested before each meet. Many of my son’s team wore their masks while they wrestled though they were only required when they were not wrestling. The observers all wore masks.

      Everyone is wearing masks at the not-for-profit I volunteer with. About 70% of folks are wearing masks on the street (though, I suspect because they are either leaving or entering buildings or public transport).

      So the perception that “schools are the only place where people are masking” is not true in our area.

      I also do not find the evidence that masks are harmful to children very convincing (though I do accept that some people cannot tolerate masks) and I think anti-mask rhetoric increases the probability that schools will close and that we will have less other normality.

      Seatbelts save about 11,000 lives per year. Had me looking up the seatbelt mandate political history, and it’s fascinating: https://www.history.com/news/seat-belt-laws-resistance

      It includes Elizabeth Dole.


      1. You don’t find the research on the harms of masks to kids convincing?? I don’t think they’ve scratched the surface on how badly kids are fucked up because of covid, masks, the economy, closed schools, etc.. The fact that we haven’t prioritized kids needs this past year is a CRIME. A crime.


      2. Yes, I do not find the research on masking, specifically, and harm it might cause (aside from special instances — indeed deaf children can’t lipread through masks) to be at all convincing. The Atlantic article on masking today was case in point. The article dismisses the multiple studies showing decrease in transmission with masks in schools in real world studies with detailed discussion of limits (which are reasonable, but do not undermine the preponderance of evidence) but then cites to laboratory studies of masking (yes, people’s faces are important) with no real world effects described. Real world effects on learning and development would be hard to show (delays in speech won’t appear instantly) and shouldn’t be ignored, but during an active, enormous outbreak, with 2000 deaths per day, I consider the evidence of harm to be unconvincing.

        Note that when I say that about studies (either the masking transmission studies or the face/mask importance for children, I’ve read the studies).


    3. That being said, I am being influenced by the idea that unilateral masking with good masks can be effective and that as the surge ends and we move to long term mitigation measures, considering optional masking might be an option. But, I’d still believe that workers should have the right to accommodation that includes others masking (i.e. teachers should be able to request masks in their classroom as a disability accommodation, say, if they have diabetes).


      1. bj commented ” multiple studies showing decrease in transmission with masks”

        I can’t admit to having done a comprehensive review of this. But my *impression* of the studies is that they are comparing the ‘everyone masked’ scenario with ‘no one masked’ (and ignoring other factors).

        My personal belief – supported by other infection studies by age – is that *teachers* are the biggest risk of catching and spreading Covid (of whatever flavour) in the classroom. With a natural gradient through to the end of high-school, with increased infection transfer in teens – but teachers still a higher risk by a considerable percentage.

        I’ve yet to see any studies of the effect on transmission of all teachers being masked (high quality, well-fitted) and students being unmasked.

        I agree that it’s not ideal from a teaching perspective. And am not supporting this as general practice.

        And, TBH, I don’t agree about the disability provision (once we’re out of the pandemic – and Covid is ‘just another flu’).
        If your health is so compromised that you are at serious medical risk from daily contact with a classroom of kids, then you need to change jobs.

        And, yes, I do have some familiarity with friends and family who’ve been down the cancer route – and deliberately changed jobs (away from regular contact with children) because their immune system can’t cope with ‘routine’ viruses. Music teacher, moved to voice acting; PE teacher, moved to teaching Economics through the remote education system; EOTC (ed out of the classroom) teacher at the observatory – changed careers completely – now in insurance.
        I also know other jobs don’t get others to make these accommodations. Nurses don’t (apart from pandemic times) get all their patients to mask up; lawyers, with compromised immune systems, don’t get the whole court system to mask up to protect them (they switch to practice outside the courtroom); bus drivers don’t get all their passengers to mask up (and no one with a compromised immune system would work as a general bus-driver – high risk of aerosol infection).

        And, just saying, in my experience all of those people with compromised immune systems are *highly* motivated to protect themselves (self-limiting social contact, not attending large gatherings (including weddings and funerals), arranging for deliveries rather than shopping.
        Have to say, I’m not seeing teachers (in general) voluntarily doing these things….


    4. burkemblog said “I don’t see them as “hygiene theater.” Schools are among the few places where people share the same room for hours at a time, not the relatively short periods in a restaurant or concert.”

      But does that (long exposure) really increase the risk. Given that Omicron is so infectious – it seems unlikely that longer exposure is any ‘worse’ than shorter exposure. The amount of time it takes to eat a meal (in a restaurant or school cafeteria) would certainly be sufficient to infect everyone there (should there be someone in a super-spreader phase of infection).
      Let alone the fact that kids (in general) are poor mask wearers – and infection is likely to spread (if it’s going to) regardless of whether they’re wearing masks or not.

      The reason that there is little infection through schools (as in actually spreading in the classroom – rather than being brought from home) is because kids are both less likely to catch Covid, and less likely to spread it. Yes, both of those have ticked up with Omicron – but the consequences to the vast majority of kids are a flu style illness.

      Teachers are both the vector most likely to catch Omicron, and most likley to spread it within the school. There’s an argument that *teachers* should be masked (to protect the kids) – but not a very strong one.


  2. Echoing everything that burkemblog says above. Cutting the risk in a place where people are sharing spaces for many hours at a time is a good thing to do to mitigate their overall risk. The other places should be doing it too, with real masks.


  3. I think the fight about masks is, in part, a proxy fight about vaccines. New York City has an excellent policy barring unvaccinated people from many places (restaurants, bars, offices for companies over a certain size). Although I’m sure there are lots of exceptions, it does seem to be reasonably well enforced. Along with that is no mask mandates. This is good, because the thing that is actually protecting you, mostly, is not spending a lot of time in close quarters with unvaccinated people.

    The key part of that though is the vaccine mandate. So following that logic, I am in favor of continued masking at my 4 year old son’s school, because neither he nor most of his classmates are old enough to be vaccinated. I have different feelings, depending on the time of day, about my 8 year old daughter’s school – she and probably a reasonably large proportion of her classmates are vaccinated, but since there’s no mandate probably not all. If there were a vaccine mandate I would favor an end to mandatory masking in her school. At my office in the NYC, where there is a vaccine mandate I am completely comfortable with no mask mandate.

    But at the end of the day, as long as 2000 people dying every day, and a huge number of people calling out sick because they have a case that is mild but still the worst flu of their life for lots of people, things are not normal and cannot be normal. If hospitals have to ration care for one quarter a year because they’re overwhelmed with COVID cases, things are not normal. It’s a little like an ourdoor concert in the rain. Whether or not there’s an umbrella mandate, it’s not going to be the same as an outdoor concert in perfect weather.


    1. MichaelB wrote, “If hospitals have to ration care for one quarter a year because they’re overwhelmed with COVID cases, things are not normal.”

      We have fewer hospital beds now than before the pandemic. (I saw that but I can’t get a cite right now.)

      We also have fewer nurses.


      That seems like something that’s worth looking into. Maybe we can’t expect to get by with the same amount of hospital beds and nurses we did with just flu when we have flu + COVID every year from now on.


    2. Expanding hospitals is a solution for 2 years from now (at the best), not now. And we have to staff them, which is longer than 2 year plan (though importing doctors & nurses could help in the interim).

      The On Point on hospitals: https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2022/01/24/omicron-hospital-overwhelmed-health-care-insurance

      was a good review of hospitals and the economic incentives they operate under (which the interviewer compared to Just In Time manufacturing trends, with no slack in the system).

      “Because you’ve operated in such a lean, lean way that you just can’t tolerate any unexpected developments.”

      Our current market-based systems are bad at building in fat, but the experts had some suggestions on how to deal with building potential surge capacity that were interesting to think about (even if I don’t agree with all of them).


  4. My experience on the amount of mask wearing is different

    Stores – everyone masked
    Broadway – everyone masked (except performers)
    Synagogue – everyone masked
    My Kids Karate Dojo – everyone masked
    Restaurants – all staff masked, customers not so much


    1. In the fall, I stopped dining in for that reason. It’s obviously unsafe for the staff and I don’t see any way to fix it besides getting take out. It was nice to have a break in the summer. I’m just waiting for this wave to wash over and then reëvaluate.


      1. But the staff wants you to be there. They want the tips. They want a full house.

        People are definitely dining out less, because of omicron, but it’s not consistent. The place we ate in on Saturday — little town on the Hudson — packed. Sunday in the city – not packed. Saturday’s place is a tiny restaurant. Every table was booked with people standing around waiting for the tables to turn over at 8:00. No distancing, no masks. And a teacher joined us for dinner.


      2. I order out and tip like I ordered for there. The staff can make of me what they will. I also think it was nuts to have bars/restaurants open and schools shut and I think a lot of the blame goes on owners of those places that wanted to make no adjustments for covid. I’m not patronizing places that did that even post covid. Obviously, I don’t know what every owner thinks, but plenty were politically active.


  5. I’m not at all happy about the people who don’t wear masks at church. The sign on the door says to and church is full of old people. If young adults, I assume they are selfish. If old, I assume it’s Trump-y signaling (it’s usually an old man unmasked and a wife with a mask).

    Of course schools should be masked at the current infection rate. Unmasking is like taking the sinks out of the restroom just because boys don’t wash their hands very well.


  6. A German mask study showed 4x the number of cases when adults didn’t wear masks in schools (from a low baseline of each index case infecting <1 additional person). These numbers might change with variants and with types of masks, but proposing zero effect of masking is just not a plausible hypothesis right now.

    Schools are not places one can chose so I won't support opposition to masking there except potentially for exceptions for individual children.

    But, I do think going forward experimenting with allowing other spaces to have choice in whether they have a requirement to mask or not might be workable. I think, for example, the 11D perception that in the NY area, people aren't masking might be because others walk out of spaces if they were as unmasked as she describes. Maybe she can shop in those places and I can shop in places where people mask (or even in hours where people mask).


    1. Germany uses medical grade masks, not cloth. We don’t use them and there is no way that Americans will wear them. Fauci said that cloth masks don’t work.


    2. The wrestlers were almost all wearing medical grade masks. Should ask what the ratio is at school. My kid has been wearing medical grade masks since omicron.


    3. In the German study, medical grade masks were only recommended in phase 2. In phase 1, where the 4x increase in index case transmission was found, medical grade masks might have been used, but weren’t recommended, and weren’t required.


  7. I was just in NY (Long Island) and was in several places (except restaurants; to be honest, I didn’t love going to restaurants even before COVID) (Oh wait, we did have lunch at a bagel place on our way home) and pretty much everyone was masked. I was in a Walgreens and one woman wasn’t wearing a mask and was bragging about it, and I walked by and said “Fuck you” under my breath and didn’t get punched, so I consider that a win.

    I heard about the ruling first via my sisters, who all belong to the local FB group (even though one lives in Rockland, lol) where the parents are going berserk, pro and con, over this. But I have to tell this one story from my sister. Her daughter is a student at a private HS (Catholic, fwiw). She said one of her classmates came to school without a mask and said it was her constitutional right not to wear a mask. And she gave some sort of piece of paper to the teacher. I don’t know what the paper said/could have said, but the classmate was sent home, lol. My sister: “They make you wear BLUE TIGHTS to school. Don’t talk to me about your ‘constitutional rights!'”

    We are all masked here in our institution of higher ed, except in our offices.


    1. I know a kid who failed two of his four classes last semester because he refused to wear a mask to class. His mom was pissssseeeeddddd at the kid. They’re not rich and can’t afford another semester of college.


  8. I’m in Washington so everyone masks everywhere still. I think it has helped us keep numbers low but do want to start thinking about when the mask mandate should end. I think our schools have absolutely no chance of stopping the mask mandate before the end of the year, but our county mandate could end sooner. At some point if it’s mainly protecting the unvaccinated I think they should deal with the consequences of their actions and the rest of us can move on. We probably aren’t there yet if hospitals are still struggling, but I hope it will be soon or at least in the next few months in the larger community. I don’t think the kids mind too much at school because they are used to it. I think we are all getting tired of it though and I worry that for some people things will never be good enough to start relaxing restrictions.


    1. Washington State, right? My experience as well, that everyone masks and although I am pretty pro mask (even though I personally hate them a lot, my kids are OK with them), I also think we have to start talking carefully and rationally about off ramps.

      Cases are turning the corner in King county (though with blips) but I feel like the state is having delayed omicron surges in other counties.


      1. Yes, Washington state. Restaurants are pretty good about asking for vax records if you are going to dine in. I’m only recently starting to feel more comfortable doing that and only if the restaurant isn’t crowded. I’ve dined outside or done takeout for a long time. Now that my son is vaccinated and my husband and I are boosted I’m just tired of it all and see little reason to remain ultra-cautious.


  9. I would like masking to be dropped for my college kids’ classes, because I think it makes it even harder to meet people and make friends, especially for kids who are not gifted in that respect. Maybe it would be different if College Kid were a social butterfly, but she’s not, and it’s just weird and hard. She started college in August 2020, so it’s been like this for her entire college career.

    Her student peers are about 80% vaccinated and staff is over 90%.


  10. “I think the fight about masks is, in part, a proxy fight about vaccines.”

    Agree that there’s an interaction between vaccination and masks, but by proxy fight mean that the more pro-mandate among us give up on masks with vaccination? as in that brief window when the CDC said we didn’t have to wear masks if vaccinated?

    It’s interesting if the vax check is occurring in restaurants in NYC. I don’t know what’s happening here since I haven’t gone to a restaurant in WA since before Dec 3 (on the peninsula, no vax check, did have checks here in the big city before that).

    My off ramp for indoor dining is cases back to levels before the omicron surge. If cases keep dropping in my chart, I’d predict mid to late February.


      1. The Brick House in Port Orchard. I ate there, but I’m less likely to eat anywhere on the peninsula because they didn’t check.


    1. Seems to me we have layers and layers of proxism going on – deplorables versus chatterati, teacher organizations with extremely different interests and views from those of parents, young people who like to party versus stodgy stay at homes, immune compromised versus just about everybody. It would be better if people identified own their interests instead of wrapping themselves in a cloak of somebody else’s. Yah, and if pigs had wings, all of us would be carrying umbrellas.


      1. ds said, “Seems to me we have layers and layers of proxism going on – deplorables versus chatterati, teacher organizations with extremely different interests and views from those of parents, young people who like to party versus stodgy stay at homes, immune compromised versus just about everybody. It would be better if people identified own their interests instead of wrapping themselves in a cloak of somebody else’s. Yah, and if pigs had wings, all of us would be carrying umbrellas.”

        Yeah, I think it’s well-past time for us all to think about our specific risks and proceed accordingly.

        My parents are unvaccinated (they think they had COVID in Jan. 2020), my mom is a cancer patient, and both of my parents hate the restrictions in their state (WA). They know all the local restaurants that don’t card for vaccination. They also just got Omicron but seem to be coming through OK.

        We shouldn’t upend society just to bubble-wrap them, when they don’t want to be bubble-wrapped and are doing everything in their power to wiggle out of the wrapping.


      2. My mother is in her 90s and very healthy (she’s not on any prescription drugs.). She is vaxxed and boosted. She’s not wearing a mask. She goes to church, she goes to exercise, she goes to quilting, she plays cards, she goes to restaurants.

        She was staying near my sister For the winter when it all started and played along for the first few months. then she decided that wasn’t living and went back home. Before it all started we were looking for a progressive senior place (where you start in an apartment and get more help/less independence over time) but not now. She will not be locked up and unable to see her family,.


      3. Tulip said, “My mother is in her 90s and very healthy (she’s not on any prescription drugs.). She is vaxxed and boosted. She’s not wearing a mask. She goes to church, she goes to exercise, she goes to quilting, she plays cards, she goes to restaurants.”

        My 96-year-old vaccinated grandma has no interest in living with any kind of COVID restrictions.

        I wish she’d get boosted, but the benefits of restrictions are very limited for her. At her age, you don’t buy green bananas. (She says that if she knew then what she knows now, she wouldn’t have gotten vaccinated.)


    2. “Agree that there’s an interaction between vaccination and masks, but by proxy fight mean that the more pro-mandate among us give up on masks with vaccination? as in that brief window when the CDC said we didn’t have to wear masks if vaccinated?”

      My observation was that as vaccination progress was made last spring and summer lots of people stopped wearing masks, and lots of places started dropping mask mandates. Then when the Delta wave came along, and the pace of vaccination slowed down, and lots of people had to confront being stuck with a pandemic situation for a much longer haul, so their views on masks switched back to masking being a sort of default.

      “It’s interesting if the vax check is occurring in restaurants in NYC. I don’t know what’s happening here since I haven’t gone to a restaurant in WA since before Dec 3 (on the peninsula, no vax check, did have checks here in the big city before that).”

      I’m just one person, but I’ve been out to restaurants in NYC maybe 5 times in the past 6 months and my vaccination status was always checked, and it appeared to be very routine – the hostess was checking everyone.


      1. I have eaten out in NYC maybe two dozen times in the past six months. Vaccine/IDs checked in sit down restaurants. Not anywhere else though.


      2. Does that mean not in bars or pubs? or museums? or music venues? We are supposed to have checks in all those places.


  11. Interesting article from NZ on the importance of in-person schools.

    We’ve just got Omicron loose in the community (govt is still trying to squash it out with restrictions – but not a hope in hell, from my perspective).

    Really good to see some recognition of the harm that exclusion from school does to kids.


  12. Oregon reporting-we still have an indoor mask mandate, including in office buildings unless you are alone in an office with 4 walls and a door.

    In retrospect we should have spent beaucoup bucks upgrading HVAC for schools before sending individual checks or giving businesses money to keep payrolls up. But we didn’t.


    1. Our government (always a day late and a dollar short), is planning to have large-scale fans for schools – to help improve the ventilation in classrooms.
      [NB: most schools in NZ are govt run – that means the Min of Education is responsible for the fittings – including air-con (which is rarely provided)]

      They’re on order.

      Our school year begins in February (well last week Jan, for some).
      First lot of fans arrive March (or probably April – going on the current supply chain issues). A princely total of 500 – spread across 2.5K schools – most of which would need *multiple* fans).

      Balance arrive in July (by which stage we all devoutly hope the pandemic is over)

      At the beginning of the pandemic (2020) when it became evident that aerosol transmission was a significant factor, schools and epidemiologists were recommending industrial scale air con in schools. 18 months later, the govt wakes up, looks around, and thinks: ‘Oh, maybe we should do something about that’ – by which stage all of the supply chain has been snapped up for business – and they have to order from overseas.


    2. You know that New Zealand still only has 52 covid deaths. Pretty tough to see that as a day late and a dollar short from my vantage point.


      1. Yes, but the *reason* we only have 52 covid deaths – is unsustainable high levels of lockdown (only Melbourne, Australia was longer), and stringent boarder closures (still ongoing). And, even that was only possible because NZ is an isolated island country, a long way from anywhere.

        Both policies have caused a lot of misery, and are unsustainable long term (especially now we have Omicron in the community). Don’t under-estimate the misery – NZ had over 600 deaths by suicide last year; and we’re still figuring out the numbers of unnecessary deaths due to lack of diagnosis of cancers and heart disease (just to name 2 conditions).

        Lockdown has been pretty much the government’s *only* strategy: whether that’s lock down the country, lock down the boarders, or lock down access (vaccine passports).
        Everyone knows that all lockdowns can do is slow the onset, and *possibly* slow the spread of Covid. It’s essential to use this time you’ve gained wisely, to do everything else necessary to mitigate the impact of Covid. That’s the time that’s been squandered.

        Vaccination was late (by 1st world standards); Beefing up the hospital system and/or fast-tracking medical professionals into NZ is still in limbo; RAT tests have just been confiscated by the government from businesses – who got their asses into gear and imported them to keep their essential businesses open (talking about supermarkets, and delivery companies, here) – because the govt didn’t act in time in getting in their own orders (after spending 18 months telling everyone that RATs were no good); and we have had deaths in home isolation, as the Govt required people to isolate at home, and ‘forgot’ to make any provision for their ongoing health monitoring or care.

        Whether NZ will continue to have such a low Covid death rate is very much an open question.
        On the one hand, we have a highly vaccinated population, and large swathes of the country are thinly populated, and it’s summer here.
        On the other hand, we have a vulnerable chunk of the population which has not been decimated by previous Covid waves; a hospital system which is in crisis right now (before significant Covid cases) and which regularly goes into overload each winter flu season; and a government who has failed to manage health outcomes effectively in any other area.

        In a very real sense, NZ is about as close as you get to virgin Covid territory – and who knows what impact Omicron will have!

        Oh, and the 52 deaths – that’s on the high side – there’s a bunch of dementia patients in there with ‘do not resuscitate’ status – first wave Covid got into a Dementia ward – if they’d been on a general ward, many of them would probably have survived.


      2. I can’t really understand the costs in NZ because we are in a completely different world here — nothing resembling your lock downs has happened here on any regular basis (probably not even at the very beginning of the pandemic when some things were actually closed by government).

        But, 52 deaths is dramatic. As a comparison Colorado, with a similar population has more than 11,000 deaths. NZ has not had any “excess deaths” during the pandemic (which, presumably, would capture increases in deaths from other causes). You can’t know the long term effects, true, but my prediction would be the loss of lives in the US, and the ripple effects (140,000 children have lost caregivers, for example), long COVID, other health consequences, are going to have significant long term effects as well.

        New Zealand might have started late on vaccinations (but with no significant loss of life to COVID), but is now 77% fully vaccinated (compared to the US’s 64%).

        Of course as a resident, you are the one with the right to demand the highest standards and worry about the all the ripple effects and the future. And, I would presume that luck of geography and just plain randomness has played a role in New Zealand’s dramatic success in saving lives. NZ does have to figure out how to move forward, but we all do.


  13. I was just checking the local college dashboard and I see that positivity is continuing to plunge. Less than a week ago (at the end of the first week of class), about 1 in 8 people in the 80% double-vaccinated campus community had an active case of COVID. Active cases are down to about 1/4 of that right now and still falling. (Delta was way less prevalent on campus compared to the surrounding community, but Omicron doesn’t seem to respect the campus borders as well.)

    In the county, cases are still high (250 per 100k per day) but not rising, positivity is falling a lot, and hospitalizations and ventilator use are high but have not gone higher than Delta, despite the fact that Omicron has 3X the daily cases as Delta.

    Texas has definitely peaked–you can see the NYT map starting to lighten up.


  14. It all depends on where you are—I’m in red, rural Ohio where the icus are full and cases are shooting through the roof. One of my 17yo daughters friends father died of COVID last week. 25% of teachers (mostly elementary) have tested positive in the last 3 weeks. 7% of students in the school have tested positive last week and 25% have had a direct exposure at school. Of course, the school dropped the mask mandate in November and refuses to bring it back even though their numbers have never been worse. Kids are getting COVID at school and giving it to their parents. We are vaxxed and boosted but i will be pissed as hell if I get COVID because the damn school was too chickenshit to bring masks back. I am already never voting for a levy again because they are so spineless. If keeping schools open is a priority, they should bring masks back (you can get decent 95s). The hospital ran an op Ed in the paper begging for people to wear masks and get vaccinated. The schools should do their part—even a few weeks of masking would help get us through this wave.


    1. Wow. Such different scenes across our country.

      I really do think the vaccines and booster meant that my bout with the virus was mild. A friend got it at the same time and probably same place as I did. She was vaxxed, but not boosted. She needed steroids to bring down swelling. I had a bad cold.


    2. Miranda,

      How would you explain the 400 case per 100k per day surges in the parts of the NE that have strict masking in schools?

      School masking didn’t stop those surges.


      1. “School masking didn’t stop those surges.”

        True. And masking didn’t stop my husband from getting COVID. But in the face of something like Omicron, I personally can’t blame institutions for trying, and perhaps it did help.

        I think I am ready, once Omicron fades even more, to do away with mask mandates, though. Probably because I am an Ashish Jha fangirl. https://twitter.com/ashishkjha/status/1485829908668559360


      2. Wendy wrote, “I think I am ready, once Omicron fades even more, to do away with mask mandates, though. Probably because I am an Ashish Jha fangirl.”

        That was a good thread.

        “But in the face of something like Omicron, I personally can’t blame institutions for trying, and perhaps it did help.”

        I would blame them, though, if they kept up heavy restrictions this spring.

        I would note that I have seen mask wearing spontaneously increase in places like the grocery store during Omicron, even without official restrictions or enforcement. It’s something like 20%. There also seem to be more high quality masks being used…even though it’s rather expensive. There’s been so much talk of “vulnerable people” and why we are supposedly sacrificing for them that I question why there hasn’t been more of an effort to get them high quality medical masks. I would not like to be paying for medical masks on Social Security or disability…

        On a humorous note, Hometown U. suddenly has bowls of high quality masks out for grabbing…just like condoms in the 90s.


      3. We can’t know what the surge would have been without masks (unless we have studies within those areas, and, I hope we do — were there schools in part of NY that weren’t masking?).


      4. I agree that getting stuck and not being able to change restrictions (in either direction) as the data changes deserves blame.

        I also agree that at some levels of risk enabling better choices (bowls of masks, sending masks to people on disability, . . . .) makes more sense then making rules that will effectively not be enforced.

        And, I think we have to do deep dives into looking at our institutions and laws because there will be another pandemic (if not just other variants of this one). CDC, FDA, . . . , hospitals, schools, . . .


    3. Don’t know your particular county, but the stats are showing Ohio as around 62% fully vaccinated.
      That’s the figure which is more likely to be driving your ICU occupancy rate, and rising deaths.

      Your figures of 25% teachers but only 7% of children in schools with Covid – show that it’s *much* more likely that adults are spreading Covid rather than children.
      Not to say that it *can’t* be child-to-adult, but it’s much more likely to happen the other way around.

      In NZ – where we’ve had the luxury of in-depth analysis of covid transmission chains (because few cases) – we’ve found that it’s exceedingly rare for a child to spread Covid to anyone; and that all of the children who caught Covid, caught it inside the family (or from very close friends) not at school. Even when Covid positive children were at school, they didn’t pass on the infection. [The only known exception was a teen, who passed Covid on to her bestie – but not anyone else in her class. Further analysis, found that they spent time together in the CV+ teen’s house – so more likely there than at school]

      And, as discussed above, masks and mask wearing, unless they are both high-quality and worn effectively (neither of which are prevalent in schools), aren’t really going to prevent the spread of Covid.


      1. Ann said, “And, as discussed above, masks and mask wearing, unless they are both high-quality and worn effectively (neither of which are prevalent in schools), aren’t really going to prevent the spread of Covid.”

        I agree with all of that.

        With regard to mask effectiveness in schools, at least one of my son’s classmates has figured out how to wear a mask so it looks right to the casual adult glance, but is not really on.

        Everything I’ve read about masking suggests that for high effectiveness, you need a trained and motivated wearer.


      2. The covid chain data from NZ is so amazing and will be useful understanding spread. I do think the early data (pre-delta) supproted the idea that younger children were not a source of spread. Folks are less sure about delta and really unsure about omicron (for which I think there still isn’t data from NZ).


      3. bj said “Folks are less sure about delta and really unsure about omicron (for which I think there still isn’t data from NZ).”

        Early data is starting to emerge now. We currently have 105 Omicron cases (either positively identified or close contacts of existing identified Omicron cases) in the community.
        This includes 8 associated with a daycare.
        Omicron was brought in by an adult (parent, not teacher) to the daycare.
        And seems (still trying to get final information) to have been spread primarily to other adults (either teachers or parents collecting children and interacting with the infectious adult)
        There has not been (so far as I know) a case of a child contracting it at the daycare, and then transmitting it to parents/family members. Though, there may be cases of the adult and child both contracting it from the same adult at roughly the same time.

        Also, the daycare centre has 59 children and 15 adults present at the sessions where the initial adult was infectious. Nothing like 59 kids with Omicron in the reported statistics (that would have been headline news!)

        No information about the vaccination status of the adults involved. All of the ECE teachers will have been vaccinated (vaccine mandate); none of the children will have been (too young), parents may or may not be vaccinated (not yet reported)

        So does look as though the ‘less likely to catch & less likely to spread’ status of children holds true with Omicron. The difference being that the increased infectiousness of Omicron has ticked up both the adult and child infection rates.


    4. Different regions are experiencing the surge differently (more “remote” areas have had delays in the omicron surge, just as they did in the initial surges at the beginning of the pandemic). There are also seasonal variation. And, on top of that there are differences in vaccination, masking, openness.

      NJ seems to be seeing cases & hospitalizations peaking, but deaths haven’t stabilized yet.


  15. Here’s a nice hopeful piece of research. Getting vaccinated and then having Covid (or the other way around) – results in super-immunity to future infections.

    This is the first piece of research (that I’ve seen) which demonstrates that Covid really will just turn into another seasonal flu – epidemiologists have predicted it, but it’s the first piece of research, showing it.



  16. https://mynorthwest.com/3320259/uw-ihme-omicron-wave-end-major-restrictions-washington/

    “With an omicron-fueled surge in COVID-19 cases finally beginning to wane, modelers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) believe that the region could be nearing the end stages of major virus-related restrictions.”

    “Murray also qualified that, noting how he is “still going to be cautious” until the omicron wave has fully ended, which he says is still “a few weeks away.”
    “Once the wave is through, I think everybody will have to make their own choice,” he said.”


  17. We still have mask mandates here – all retail, anywhere public you can’t distance. In gyms they did remove masking requirements for vaccinated people (anyone over 17 has to be vaccinated to be in the gym) during classes or while using equipment which can result in some hilarious like “mask on, move 3 feet, mask off” ridiculousness. It’s policies like those that ruin good policies.

    At my workplace we’ve kept the masks required, because everyone had adjusted and sorting out the on/off thing + the difference between the requirements for kids and requirements for vaccinated adults was just a lot to manage.

    I do think for kids learning to speak/decode/read and people with communication issues of any kind the masks are really hard. For me and my kids though, it’s kind of a no-brainer. They’ve been back learning in-person for over a week. My after school program only made it *two days* before a kid tested positive, but so far no linked cases (and we’re no longer required to shut down as a close contact is defined as a household contact.) It’s probably a bit of magical thinking but I do think the masks help contain spread some even if it’s just a small cumulative effect.

    I do think fabric masks are useless for Omicron at least, and I still see a lot of those. I also see a lot of people wearing surgical or KN/N95s. But reducing droplets in general makes sense to me right now ’cause it’s cold and flu season and our hospitals are still overrun and only just now starting to do *cancer* surgeries again which had been *cancelled*. For me, I think I’ll pop on a surgical or KN95 mask any time I feel sniffly or squashed in with people from now on. This is the first time in since 1980 I’ve gone more than a year and a half without a bronchial infection, and I’ve been out working in public since August 2020.


  18. We got our shipment of unauthorized rapid tests from Portugal a couple days ago and my husband tells me that we just got our federal ones.

    We’re rich!

    The contraband Portuguese FlowFlex ones were virtually identical to the US-approved FlowFlex ones that we’ve had before.


    1. This reminds me of the early days of the pandemic, when the powers that be were telling people not to wear or buy masks because the hospitals needed them. We ordered some surgical masks (probably from Ali Baba) and sent them to my elderly relatives.

      I felt like such an outlaw at the time.


  19. Real data on child mental health during the pandemic:

    “during the first 15 months of the pandemic, youth ER presentations of self harm, overdose, and hospital admissions of both decreased by ~18% in Ontario.”
    “We have data out of Paris showing pediatric suicide attempt presentations did not increase further during periods of school closure, rather decreased/same, but they increased significantly at times when lockdowns were lifted and pandemic was spreading.”
    “We have prescription data out of Manitoba showing that during the pandemic, prescriptions to youth for psychiatric medications decreased compared to previous years, not increased.”
    “The first school year of the pandemic (with full lockdowns) also represents the FIRST TIME IN 21 YEARS that March-June (school months) had the same low suicide rate as July (non school month). Typically, school months associated with 36-55% increase in HS kids.”

    Scientific studies demonstrating each assertion linked in the thread.


  20. Thanks, gelasticjew. I’d seen similar studies for the US and have been bemused why the counternarrative persists.

    “The number of kids needing speech therapy and developing reading disabilities is huge; experts think it’s related to masks.”

    Professional linguist here – this has been pretty definitively debunked. The ‘expert’ cited in the news coverage turns out to be a single SLP from one clinic in Florida. ASHA has released statements that there is NO evidence that masking has caused an increase in speech delays.

    And it makes perfect sense after more than a moment’s thought, because obviously primary caregivers aren’t wearing masks while with their small children.

    “And then doing any sort of therapy on kids with speech issues is totally impossible with a barrier over the mouth of the student and the therapist.”

    Not totally impossible, but anyway clear masks are available and widely used among the deaf, HoH and SLP communities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “obviously primary caregivers aren’t wearing masks while with their small children.”

      …but in some areas of the US, daycare workers are masked all day with kids.


      1. Regarding the “no evidence” thing, I have to point out that this has to be parsed out.

        It could mean a) we’ve done the research and there’s no difference or b) we haven’t done the research, so we don’t know one way or another.

        When the powers that be say that there’s “no evidence,” it’s often understood as a) when it’s quite likely b). Sometimes, as here, the ambiguity is intentional on the part of authorities.

        We’ve seen this ambiguity frequently during COVID.


    2. Also some kids are actually benefiting from zoom therapy (I’ve heard for both mental health and speech) — Nichole Chung, for example, said her autistic child is doing well with zoom therapy for speech (and, I cite that as an anecdote, not data).


      1. I’ve seen zoom therapy work really well with one older kid and really poorly with our youngest child. Maybe it would have been different if the youngest kid had met the therapist in person pre-pandemic, but from her point of view, the therapist isn’t a real person, just a box on a screen. So she’s never really bonded with her as a person, despite working with her for a long time. But, again, an older kid has done fine with relating to a therapist kid has only ever “met” online.


  21. Thanks for bringing the examinations of covid effects in the real world (epidemiology of mental health, speech effects) to my attention!

    It’s true that “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC351831/

    But, absence of evidence is certainly not evidence in favor (of, say, effects of masking on speech delays).

    The studies of developmental deprivation (“wire mother” monkey studies and environmental deprivation studies, mostly in mice) show that extreme deprivation in the environment can have effects on development. But, studies showing less extreme deprivation do not show similarly significant effects. The studies are sometimes exaggerated but they don’t show reason to believe that masking (even for 8 hours a day) is likely to cause significant delays (and, say, a loss of a caregiver is likely to be more significant).


    1. I know this is literature, not science, but it sticks with me. It’s about how adversity affects children but maybe not so much to worry about, and it’s the last two paragraphs of “I Stand Here Ironing,” by Tillie Olsen, published in 1956.

      “I will never total it all. I will never come in to say: She was a child seldom smiled at. Her father left me before she was a year old. I had to work her first six years when there was work, or I sent her home and to his relatives. There were years she had care she hated. She was dark and thin and foreign-looking in a world where the prestige went to blondeness and curly hair and dimples, she was slow where glibness was prized. She was a child of anxious, not proud, love. We were poor and could not afford for her the soil of easy growth. I was a young mother, I was a distracted mother. There were the other children pushing up, demanding. Her younger sister seemed all that she was not. There were years she did not want me to touch her. She kept too much in herself, her life was such she had to keep too much in herself. My wisdom came too late. She has much to her and probably little will come of it. She is a child of her age, of depression, of war, of fear.
      Let her be. So all that is in her will not bloom — but in how many does it? There is still enough left to live by. Only help her to know-help make it so there is cause for her to know — that she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron.”

      (I wrote my undergrad thesis on Olsen. She was a fascinating person: socialist, progressive, humanist. She was a PTA mom and a writer and an activist. I love her work. Her prose is musical.)


    2. The “wire monkey” studies, I mean do not show that we should expect, for example, a real world effect of masking.

      I do think we have to keep an eye on what real world effects we are seeing with child development because I am naive enough to hope for interventions as needed. And, I entirely agree with Laura that there has been a significant disruption to education (though not necessarily just because of school closures).

      The interventions we will need (access to mental health services, physical, speech therapy, reading remediation, . . . .) will cost money, though, instead of just being fodder for political posturing.


  22. Brace yourselves for some wild speculation!

    My guess (and somebody please steal this and run with it for your social science project) is that masking probably contributes to aggression and bad behavior, both in kids and in adults. It fosters anonymity, a feeling of impunity, and eliminates social cues and feedback. Masking makes it harder to communicate friendliness and good will.

    Perhaps not coincidentally, the US has had a huge increase in violence and expressions of hostility during the pandemic. I think that it’s not entirely a coincidence that the big “racial reckoning”/racial paranoia of 2020+ happened during a period of heavy masking. Masking makes it harder to see that the people around you who are not members of your in-group are expressing good will and are trying their best to show friendly intentions. There was so much hatefulness expressed on social media that was probably the result of being cut off from normal social interactions and from people having very limited contact with people in-real life beyond very small circles during the early pandemic, and during the pandemic social media almost became “the real world” for a lot of people.


  23. Masking is a demonstration of social cohesion and care for others. Seems to be the anti-maskers who are aggressive and rude.


    1. gelasticjew wrote, “Masking is a demonstration of social cohesion and care for others. Seems to be the anti-maskers who are aggressive and rude.”

      There’s some speculation that masking has helped fuel the big US crime wave. A lot of people got away with stuff that they wouldn’t have, were it not for the masking norm.

      At the risk of a near-Godwin violation–the KKK liked masks, too.


      1. Paul McCartney LOVES ’em! He has talked about the joy of being able to walk around Manhattan unrecognized and unpestered… you don’t necessarily want to make policy by ‘is it nice for Paul McCartney’ though.


      2. ds said, “Paul McCartney LOVES ’em! He has talked about the joy of being able to walk around Manhattan unrecognized and unpestered… you don’t necessarily want to make policy by ‘is it nice for Paul McCartney’ though.”



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