New England Journal of Medicine: Keep kids masked in school to mitigate ‘structural racism’

Of all the authoritarian COVID-19 measures that have been imposed on Americans since the beginning of the pandemic, few have been as polarizing — and potentially devastating — as the requirement for young children to wear masks in schools.

According to one report on the National Institutes of Health website, “The masks have two serious problems for children: 1) the typical masks (cloth or medical) present a visual barrier to those who rely on non-verbal communication signals on the face (e.g. mouth, lips, teeth, tongue and cheeks); the child is unable to obtain visual cues, hiding the speaker’s face and not allowing the lip reading and 2) the voice of the teacher is attenuated and distorted.”

“The degradation of speech quality, combined with the noise/reverberation of the room and the absence of visual cues, makes speech almost unintelligible for many individuals, especially for children who are in the process of acquiring and developing speech, language, in the process of literacy and acquisition of new knowledge,” the study found.


But according to a new report in the New England Journal of Medicine, we need to keep up “universal masking” — especially in schools — because they are “useful” in fighting racism.

“Districts that chose to sustain masking requirements longer tended to have school buildings that were older and in worse condition and to have more students per classroom than districts that chose to lift masking requirements earlier,” the article explains. “In addition, these districts had higher percentages of low-income students, students with disabilities, and students who were English-language learners, as well as higher percentages of Black and Latinx students and staff.”

“Our results support universal masking as an important strategy for reducing Covid-19 incidence in schools and loss of in-person school days,” it continues. “As such, we believe that universal masking may be especially useful for mitigating effects of structural racism in schools, including potential deepening of educational inequities.”

The article notes the school disruptions due to the pandemic and the “265,000 children and adolescents” in the States that have endured the death of a parent or caregiver from COVID and claims, “These effects have been disproportionately borne by groups already made vulnerable by historical and contemporary systems of oppression, including structural racism and settler colonialism.”

“Black, Latinx, and Indigenous children and adolescents are more likely to have had severe Covid-19, to have had a parent or caregiver die from Covid-19, and to be affected by worsening mental health and by educational disruptions than their White counterparts,” it states.

In order to understand the importance of masking, the article contends, you must view it through the lens of “structural racism.”

“Understanding Covid-19 policy decisions requires attention to power and existing historical and sociopolitical contexts,” the article reads. “Structural racism and racial capitalism operate through multiple pathways, including higher levels of household crowding and employment in essential industries and lower levels of access to testing, vaccines, and treatment; these structural forces differentially concentrate the risk of both SARS-CoV-2 exposure and severe Covid-19 in low-income and Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities.”

“In Boston and Chelsea, more than 80% of the students are Black, Latinx, or people of color, and these cities were among the Massachusetts cities and towns that were hit hardest by Covid-19. Students and families in these school districts have strongly advocated and organized for governmental action to increase Covid-19 protections in schools, emphasizing their role as essential workers, the risk to vulnerable family members, and the unequal consequences of missed work and school,” it continues. “The decision in some school districts to sustain school masking policies longer may therefore reflect an understanding among parents and elected officials that structural racism is embedded in public policies and that policy decisions have the potential to rectify or reproduce health inequities.”

So, if you want your child to be able to breathe and learn to speak properly, you need to check your privilege. Clearly, you’re a racist.


“A growing body of work suggests that knowledge of differential conditions and inequitable effects may decrease support for Covid-19 protections among systematically advantaged groups, whose relative position largely insulates them from Covid-19 harms, while simultaneously increasing support among groups that are directly affected by systems of oppression,” the article contends.

“For example, in a randomized trial in which White persons were assigned to receive information about structural causes of persistent Covid-19 inequities across racial or ethnic groups or to not receive such information, those who received the information were less likely to support Covid-19 prevention policies and were less likely to report individual concern about Covid-19 and empathy for the groups that were most affected,” it continues.

“In several studies and polls, Black and Latinx parents were more likely than White parents to support school masking requirements and less likely to have confidence that schools could operate safely without additional protections,” it argues. “Failure to consider unequal baseline conditions and ongoing inequitable effects of Covid-19 policies risks further exacerbating inequities in Covid-19 incidence and educational outcomes.”

Over on Twitter, the notion of masking up for equity’s sake is being met with the derision it so richly deserves.


Melissa Fine


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