Editor’s note: This letter is by Meg Hansen of Manchester.
The latest figures show that the COVID-19 childhood case fatality rate is 0.01 percent, that is, around 520 children have died since the pandemic began. Let’s put this statistic into context. During the 2018-19 influenza season, over 46,000 children were hospitalized and 480 children died. The CDC reports 675 total pediatric deaths (annual average of 113 deaths) due to influenza between 2010-11 and 2015-16. The intention is not to make light of any death but to emphasize that prudent policymaking considers multiple factors such as the efficacy of masks and the impact of their extended use on children.
In my commentary, “Virus Mutation Does Not Justify Masking Children,” I explained that there is no conclusive evidence of masks preventing COVID-19 spread. However, the adverse effects of prolonged mask wearing are well documented. Developmental delays, cognitive decline, and behavioral regression are serious harms that can become permanent. The risk of infections is ever present but the steps to confront it cannot inflict irreparable damage. Rather than the Delta variant, the influenza morbidity and mortality rates offer a stronger basis to mask children for protection. But we have never made that argument and for good reason.