Some congressional Republicans, led by Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Missouri Rep. Jason Smith, want the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to explain why children as young as age 2 should wear a face mask to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
In a letter Thursday to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the group of 30 House and Senate lawmakers say the recommendations have had serious consequences for some people.
“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,” according to the letter. “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 and negative mental health consequences, the letter says.
Stories of passengers getting kicked off flights because their child wasn’t wearing a face mask have garnered national attention in recent weeks.
Airlines have required all passengers to wear face coverings since last May. In January, President Joe Biden required all airports, commercial airplanes, trains, intercity buses and other forms of public transportation to comply with CDC guidelines on mask wearing. The CDC issued a corresponding mandate that only exempted children under the age of 2.
In Utah, some groups have urged parents to send their children to school without face coverings since a new law lifted the statewide mask mandate on April 10. The law, however, keeps the mask mandate for K-12 students in place through June 15.
The CDC recommends children age 2 and older wear a mask when in public and when around people they don’t live with to slow the spread of COVID-19. Medical experts say mask wearing for babies and toddlers could make it harder for them to breathe and increases the risk of suffocation.
The public health agency recognizes that mask wearing might not be possible in every situation and that it poses challenges for children with cognitive, intellectual, developmental, sensory and behavioral disorders.
In the letter, Lee and the other lawmakers argue that CDC’s guidelines are among the most stringent in the world. They say children in Switzerland under age 12 don’t have to wear masks, while kids in France and the United Kingdom under age 11 are exempt. In Italy, children under age 6 aren’t required to wear face coverings.
“The significantly lower age requirement for mask wearing in the United States raises questions about the susceptibility of young children to COVID-19, the rate at which they transmit the disease, and their developmental ability to comply with mask requirements,” according to the letter.
The GOP lawmakers say there is evidence showing a lower likelihood of young children contracting and spreading COVID-19. They cite studies in the letter that say children transmit the virus but not as often as adults, especially in younger age groups.
“Within the United States, children younger than age 5 account for approximately 6% of the population but only 2% of total coronavirus cases,” the letter says.
The letter asks the CDC to show the scientific studies it relied on to set mask-wearing guidelines for children, if it’s tracking the latest research on COVID-19 transmission among children and whether it’s willing to modify and update its current recommendations.