It’s Time to Make Masks Optional for Children

While Gov. Kathy Hochul has rolled back the indoor mask mandate for businesses, New York students are still required to wear face coverings.

It’s time to bring this mandate to an end, as new COVID cases and hospitalizations fall to pre-Delta variant levels.

Many educators in the state have expressed their views on ending the mask mandate.

Brooklyn-based private school Poly Prep told its students and facility last week that they would make the mask-wearing optional before city and state health department officials met with the school’s leadership and — just like that — the mandate was reinstated.

Last month, the Diocese of Brooklyn’s educational leadership issued a letter to the Catholic academies and parish schools and parents reacting to a ruling in a lawsuit filed in Nassau County, stating that the statewide mandate ordering students and staff to wear masks in schools is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.

That ruling is being challenged at the appellate court level and a stay has been issued pending their decision.

The letter from the diocesean superintendent’s office stated, “Naturally, if the governor rescinds the mask mandate, there would be no need to await the court decisions.

“It is our fervent hope for the Catholic Academies and Parish Schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn that the mask mandate will be eliminated which would allow our schools to make mask-wearing optional based upon local circumstances.

“If the appellate courts strike down the mask mandate, our schools and academies will IMMEDIATELY be able to make masks optional. However, until the appellate courts render a final decision, our Catholic Academies and Parish Schools must follow the State mask mandate.”

There are two important points to be made about having our youngest parishioners masked.

First, statistically speaking, school-aged children have suffered less from COVID. Parents can choose to vaccinate their children (if they meet age requirements), and at this point, parents should be the decision-makers when it comes to whether their children wear masks.

Secondly, many psychologists and psychiatrists are seeing far more adolescent and teenage patients dealing with mental health issues, and hospitals are seeing more children who require mental health care — not treatment for COVID.

Witness one scene recently in Las Vegas, where elementary school children screamed and jumped with joy as they found they would no longer be required to wear face coverings in class.

The long-term effects on children will not be known anytime soon.

While it’s difficult to make a definitive connection, during the pandemic, there has been a big  jump in emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts among adolescents — an increase of 31% in 2020 from the year before.

In February and March 2021, visits for suspected suicide attempts for girls aged 12 to 17 rose 51% compared with the same period pre-pandemic.

As our youngest students take their traditional mid-winter vacation, politicians in Albany and City Hall need to let the kids go back to normal in our schools when they return from the break.

Better yet, Gov. Hochul should lift the mandate now.