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A girl passes a “Welcome Back to School” sign as she arrives for the first day of class at Brooklyn’s PS 245 elementary school. Last week, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a mask mandate for children aged 2 and up in childcare facilities.

Mark Lennihan

Perspective: Don’t blame governors for treating kids like criminals. It’s the CDC

Airlines, daycares and schools are walking a difficult line between masking children or facing penalties. The CDC, meanwhile, remains strangely unaccountable to the public

SHARE Perspective: Don’t blame governors for treating kids like criminals. It’s the CDC
SHARE Perspective: Don’t blame governors for treating kids like criminals. It’s the CDC

Last week, the new governor of New York, Kathy Hochul, threw parents a curveball: A year and a half into the pandemic, she announced a mask mandate for children aged two and up in childcare facilities.  

A video of a daycare worker trying to put a mask on a two-year-old went viral days later, racking up four million views just from one tweet alone: 

It’s a similar story across the state, with one upstate New York daycare owner expressing concern to local media over the long-term outlook for her business because of the mandate.

It’s a Catch-22 situation: The daycare employees look like the bad guys, trying either to enforce an impossible policy or risk losing their daycare license and face fines. 

It’s a similar situation for airlines. Since the TSA implemented a mask mandate in January of 2021, it seems like every few weeks there’s another viral video of a toddler or a child with disabilities removed from a flight for a “failure to comply.” Since it was announced, more than 4,000 incidents involving “face mask violations” have been reported, and many of those have involved children. 

Last week’s viral video seems a bit more complicated than most: A family of a two-year-old was removed from an American Airlines flight. 

The family claims it was over a mask violation while the child was experiencing an asthma attack. A spokesman from American Airlines told MarketWatch that the flight was returned to the gate, and the family had to deplane for “refusing to comply with crew member instructions to remain seated while on an active taxiway and to wear face coverings securely over their nose and mouth.” 

They were rebooked for another flight, and there were no fees associated with the rebooking, the airline said. It has also been reported that the airline said, ”At no time was it made known to our crew members that a member of the party was experiencing an asthma attack or trouble breathing. Individuals were not addressed for failure to comply with face covering requirements at any point while administering treatment.” 

This isn’t the first case of “he said, she said” public relations nightmare over mask compliance. Back in March, Frontier Airlines booted a group of Hasidic Jews for failure to comply with the mask mandate. Video, which is admittedly doesn’t always tell the full story, shows the only member of the party not wearing a mask was an 18-month-old child, below the age of the mask mandate. But when the group was removed, bystanders became so boisterous in their defense of the family that the whole flight was canceled. 

All of these stories have become disasters for already struggling airlines, and there isn’t an American-based airline that has escaped a round of internet rage during the pandemic. But airlines based around the world appear to be experiencing fewer issues, thanks to their adherence to the WHO’s guidelines, which don’t require children under the age of five to be masked under any circumstance. 

This double standard between two leading world health bodies led to a letter sent from congressional leaders, led by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., questioning the CDC’s recommendations on masking children aged two and up. The letter reads, “Multiple parents of young children have been removed from flights, and in some instances, permanently banned, from future travel on the airline they were flying due to their toddler’s refusal to wear a mask. … These unfortunate events have occurred despite the parents’ best attempts to have their child cooperate with the mask requirement, which is a struggle millions of parents have faced this past year.”  

Compliance has proved almost impossible for parents of children with disabilities, resulting in increased social isolation, the letter says. The CDC’s response to these congressional leaders, sent months later, was incoherent. In answer to the question, “What childhood developmental milestones did the CDC take into consideration when setting the minimum age requirement at two years old?” The CDC explained: 

Several developmental aspects may limit children under two years old from wearing a face mask safely, including those outlined on CDC’s Developmental Milestones Website. First, most children under two are unable to complete full sentences or phrases. If the mask were uncomfortable, a child under age two might not be able to vocalize or otherwise alert caregivers to this problem. Second, children under two may lack the motor strength, dexterity, and coordination to remove the mask by themselves, if needed. Conversely, children older than two typically have the communication and motor skills to wear a mask and remove it in case of an emergency. As noted in the response to question one, masks have also been shown to be safe in children as young as age two.

Has anyone at the CDC met, let alone raised, a young child? I work from home with my children and my two-year-old is, as I write this, is removing her clothes. I am not sure why. My two-year-old, like every other two-year-old in America, is not rational and cannot be reasoned with; the “Terrible Twos” can often feel like an understatement. I’m struggling to potty train her; how can she be expected to safely and effectively wear a mask all day in a school setting (as required in states like Michigan and New York) or on a cross-country flight if she can’t use a toilet yet? As any parent can tell you, the situation doesn’t change much at age three. And age four? I’m currently debating with my four-year-old about if he’s hungry or not; his estimation of his level of hunger has changed four times since I started writing this paragraph.

When daycares, schools and airlines enforce these rules on ages two and up, they find themselves at the center of firestorms. 

But they aren’t the enemy, nor is the TSA or even the governors. All of these governmental bodies are enacting federal CDC guidelines about mask wearing on who should and could wear them. The CDC, meanwhile, is strangely unaccountable to the American public. It can take months and ignore deadlines set by members of Congress asking about its scientific rationale. It can claim, with a straight face when it finally does respond over a year into a pandemic, “In circumstances where the public faces an emerging threat, but where scientific evidence is limited, CDC adopts a conservative approach in making recommendations affecting the health and well-being of all Americans.” 

This lack of accountability for some of the most powerful unelected bureaucrats in the country is why Sen. Lee, along with Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., introduced a bill Tuesday called the Restoring Trust in Public Health Act, which would require Senate confirmation of the CDC director. Until we have a CDC making rational decisions about our kids, we’ll continue to see more viral videos of dangerous criminals — er, toddlers — ejected from flights and daycares across the country. 

Bethany Mandel is a contributing writer for Deseret News, editor at Ricochet.com and a contributor to the Washington Examiner blog and magazine.