The Biden administration is standing by its decision to mask toddlers as part of a Health and Human Services program that provides early childhood education, even after it has dropped mask measures in almost every other school environment.
In a House Education and Labor Committee meeting on Wednesday, HHS secretary Xavier Becerra maintained that masks were "safe and effective" and "should be used" for toddlers in its Head Start program, which serves children from poor families. The decision is out of step with Biden's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which in February dropped mask mandates for K-12 education. When asked by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R., N.Y.) about the discrepancy, Becerra said, "The science is guiding us on the actual implementation of those policies."
Unmask our kids!
WATCH 👇👇👇 pic.twitter.com/wBrsi65FES
— Rep. Elise Stefanik (@RepStefanik) April 6, 2022
A March poll, which was conducted by Politico and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found that nearly half of parents believe forcing their kids to wear masks hurt those kids' educational, relational, and mental development. Despite low percentages of infection and hospitalization, the CDC until recently backed universal indoor masking for all children ages two and older. Neither the World Health Organization nor the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control recommended masking young children during the pandemic.
Stefanik said the Biden administration's "harmful" mask mandates have "cause[d] limited vocabularies, delayed speech development, and difficulties with social interaction and confidence."
A Brown University study in 2021 found that masking may have impaired young children's development, including their fine motor skills, visual reception, and expressive language scales. The researchers recorded a 23 percent drop in IQ since the beginning of the pandemic.
Becerra declined to address Stefanik's claim, preferring to tell the congresswoman, "We each can have our own opinion."
"You are wrong in this position," Stefanik responded. "If it is the position of Joe Biden to require mask mandates only on children under the age of five, that is woefully out of touch with the American people. It's also woefully out of touch [with] health experts across this country."
Update 6:23 p.m.: This article has been updated.