When “science” is politicized, both politics and science are discredited. Modern America has politicized COVID in ways that few epidemics of the past can rival, straining society itself with unprecedented intrusions into personal privacy, fundamental rights, and the ability to earn an income or educate one’s children.
The politicization of science is evident when healthy young children are deprived of an education as punishment for not wearing (harmful) masks, while those infected with HIV who knowingly infect others are shielded by a “rights-based approach” to the AIDS crisis. Where are our children’s rights?
During the AIDS crisis, numerous states enacted laws that criminalized the knowing transmission of HIV. California led the nation in condemning such statutes, reducing the penalty for this crime in 2017 from a felony to a misdemeanor subject to a maximum six-month sentence.
The political justification for this policy shift was that these laws “…[did] not reflect medical advances for reducing the risk of HIV transmission and disproportionately affect marginalized communities.” Lead “reformer” Scott Weiner noted:
These laws were based on fear and on the limited medical understanding of the time. … In the decades since, societal and medical understanding of HIV has greatly improved. Effective treatments dramatically lengthen and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV — treatments that also nearly eliminate the possibility of transmission.
The gaping scientific hole in this political rationalization is that many HIV patients do not take their medications with discipline, meaning transmission is still a risk. The CDC reports an estimated 1,189,700 Americans infected with HIV at the end of 2019, with 36,801 people receiving the diagnosis in 2019. Notes the CDC:
Young people aged 13 to 24 are especially affected by HIV. In 2019, young people accounted for 21% (7,648) of all new HIV diagnoses. All young people are not equally at risk, however. Young gay and bisexual men accounted for 83% (6,385) of all new HIV diagnoses in people aged 13 to 24 in 2019. Young Black/African American gay and bisexual men are even more severely affected, as they represented 50% (3,209) of new HIV diagnoses among young gay and bisexual men. … HIV is largely an urban disease, with most cases occurring in metropolitan areas with 500,000 or more people.
Young people are at increased risk from opioids as well. Vermont opioid deaths increased 38% in 2020 (69% were male). CDC reports 49,860 opioid deaths in 2019, a 4% increase from the prior year. Total overdose deaths for 2020 are estimated to have exceeded 83,000. With opioids — as with COVID and HIV — political attention to race is heightened: disparities in death rates are widely attributed to “systemic racism,” and calls for “equitable” reponses abound.
But what of “equity for children” of any color? The COVID, HIV, and opioid epidemics were all used to fuel political charges of systemic racism and calls for the prioritization of equity and human rights. Yet children are being thrown under the proverbial bus over masks in Vermont’s schools, even though the CDC notes that “students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority.”
Apparently not the top priority. Unmasked Vermont children are being sent home and told they will be deprived of a state education. Southern Vermont Supervisory Union Assistant Superintendent William Bazyk stated in an Aug. 30 email:
We would not force a mask on a student physically. We would definitely have a student talk to an adult and most likely one of our counselors if they refused to wear a mask. We would suspend children who did not wear masks [as] the school district has a duty of ordinary care to protect its students per state statute. If the AOE and CDC are providing guidance for universal masking at school and did not follow that guidance, the school district could be liable if a student or staff member contracted COVID-19. There is no remote learning option this year per AOE.
Healthy children are at near zero risk of death or serious illness from COVID-19, and the very suggestion that a staff member could become infected is speculative — let alone how such a thing would be proved in court. There is no question that the alienation and fear caused by masking are harmful to children — the only unknown is how much so. Two-year-olds traumatized by living in this surreal sci-fi world will have no recourse: their legal rights are being flippantly decided by CDC bureaucrats based on sloppy science. “Rights-based” assessment has been jettisoned along with other precedents of common sense.
It is intriguing that school technocrats cower behind the omnipotent government juggernaut, invoking fear of litigation in conjunction with fear of death. There appears to be no fear of error, either in causing harm to 5-year-olds forced to mask, or in violating their rights. But aside from the masking issue, what of the implicit punishment of denying children an education? Ironically, the government that discourages homeschooling is now making non-schooling mandatory for the offense of not donning a dubious mask. Presumably parents will be awarded their pro rata tax payments back to subsidize this new effort; exempted from state requirements to approve homeschool curricula.
There is a stark public policy contrast between the official response to the HIV and opioid crises, and the COVID pandemic, that reveals the general narcissism of identity politics. So-called “social justice” ignores very real evidence of harm to children in favor of tenuous and politicized data that serves ideological objectives. When it came to AIDS:
Historically, many of the improvements in public health have their roots in a synergistic combination of political leadership and science. … Mann introduced a rights-based approach as the basis for a global AIDS strategy, which is still a guiding principle of most AIDS programs today. … Fierce policy debates rage on the issues of sex workers, homosexuals, and injection drug users, as well as around providing sexual education in schools and the feasibility of basing HIV prevention policies on ‘moral grounds.’
Invoking morality (abstinence) to stem the spread of HIV was deemed objectionable by pro-gay activists. Similarly, appealing to personal responsibility and prevention efforts in the opioid crisis is derided as fruitless, or stigmatizing for those who have unfortunately contracted “SUD” (Substance Abuse Disorder). But the policy debate for children to be protected against the potential harms of masks, or to have rights to be shielded from pressure by “adults” and school counselors to wear them when their parents have decided otherwise, are simply ignored. The moralizing is in full view though — conjuring images of unmasked children infecting adult employees; shaming people who do not comply; depriving children of a public education with zero home support.
For young children, masks are physically uncomfortable, inhibit normal immune system development, impair development of healthy social interaction and emotion recognition skills, and condition compliance built on fear. It is understandable that many parents possess concerns about these risks, when weighed against a disease that is relatively benign for healthy young children. It is absurd that young children are to be deprived of an education, and discriminated against; it’s also immoral. HIV is largely contracted via consensual sexual activity; Substance Abuse Disorder is contracted by voluntary drug use. Unmasked children haven’t done anything wrong, and should be afforded as much consideration for their rights as gay, black and drug-addicted citizens.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and the former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield. © Copyright True North Reports 2021. All rights reserved.