Column: My sixth-grader may never give up her mask. If only adults could be this grown-up
This is how the mask mandate is going in our house:
On Monday, the sixth-grader, who wore her surgical mask all day at school, including when she ran a mile in P.E., came home and plopped onto the couch to start her Mandarin homework.
“You can take off your mask now,” I said.
“I don’t want to!” she said. “It’s so comfortable.”
This is not unusual. My 11-year-old niece is better at following public health directives than most adults I know.
About 10 months ago, when we picked up our new puppy in Carlsbad, a far more politically conservative area than Venice, the maskless man of the house looked at my niece and said: “Can I ask you a question? Why are you wearing that mask?”
“I like to,” she replied. “It makes me feel safe.”
What could he say? Take it off, I don’t want you to feel safe?
He just shrugged.
Recently, when public health officials advised that cloth masks were not as effective in reducing the transmission of the Omicron variant, my niece switched from her beloved fabric masks, which were a pain to keep clean, to disposable paper ones. With zero complaint.
I think about this when I see posts on social media that are variations on the same whiny theme: Few football fans appeared to be wearing masks at the Super Bowl on Sunday — clips of various unmasked celebrities are making the rounds — but children all over Los Angeles will be forced to wear masks when they return to school on Monday. How unconscionable!
Kids, as my colleague Karin Klein wrote last year, have adapted. It’s the grown-ups who stomp their feet and act like petulant tykes.
As we’ve learned in these uncertain times, pandemic knowledge and rules are constantly evolving. You cannot hold the changing advice against the scientists. Just when we thought we’d wrestled COVID to the mat last year, a new variant popped up. Mask mandates, which had been relaxed, tightened back up.
Today, in what California Gov. Gavin Newsom dramatically described as a “date with destiny,” the state was scheduled to drop its rule that vaccinated people must wear masks in indoor public spaces. (The unvaccinated still must wear masks.)
This relaxation of the rules does not apply to schools, which will be under a statewide mask mandate until at least Feb. 28, although local health officials can impose or continue tougher rules than the state requires.
In Los Angeles County, for example, health officials say they will lift indoor mask mandates when coronavirus transmission levels drop to what’s considered a “moderate” rate for two weeks in a row — or two months after children 5 and under can be vaccinated.
I find the metrics dizzying, but since I am a journalist, not an epidemiologist, I respect the consensus of experts. I don’t, as so many anti-mandaters proclaim, “do my own research” in an effort to contradict the doctors and researchers whose knowledge I can never duplicate.
In any case, The Times reports, both thresholds are expected to be met by March or April. If a virulent new variant springs up, however, all bets are off.
Although the county’s mask mandate was in effect for the Super Bowl, officially an outdoor “mega event,” the widespread flouting of the masking rule raises a significant question: Do public health mandates even work?
Well, it raises two significant questions, the second being, just exactly how long can Eric Garcetti hold his breath, anyway?
Our mayor came in for some brutal criticism after posing maskless with Newsom and sports legend Magic Johnson at the NFC championship game between the Rams and 49ers on Jan. 30.
Public officials should not have to be reminded that if they tell people to wear masks, and are witless enough to be photographed with a naked face, they are undermining all the hard work that our health officials have invested in educating the public about mitigation strategies.
By the time the Rams head-butted the Bengals at the Super Bowl two weeks later, Garcetti wasn’t holding his breath anymore. He was photographed chatting with other maskless VIPs, including his dad, former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti. The photo was posted on Twitter by a self-styled media watchdog.
Garcetti spokesman Alex Comisar was neither apologetic nor defensive. “He was wearing a mask the whole game and removed it briefly to have a drink, which is allowable under the rules,” Comisar told me. This is absolutely true, and it’s probably not worth the effort to pick on the mayor for this one. He’s got enough troubles.
As for the question about whether mask or vaccine mandates work, the answer is an unequivocal yes. They do.
While mandates and restrictions enrage small segments of the population — Canadian truckers, would-be Michigan kidnappers and, yes, histrionic parents — they have been shown to be effective in boosting vaccination rates and lowering COVID-19 transmission rates.
Masking has been “a valuable tool” to keep schools functioning when transmission is high, California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said Monday during a news conference. California, he noted, has 12% of the nation’s schoolchildren, and had only 1% of school closures.
L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, who has withstood vicious criticism, is on the same page: “I will say, unequivocally, that we should not be lifting the masking mandate when we’re reporting thousands and thousands of new cases every day,” she told The Times last week. “That doesn’t make sense to us here at Public Health.”
Doesn’t make sense to me, either.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we have more control over transmissible diseases than we realized. When the annual flu season comes around, I’m sure we won’t be the only family whipping out our masks. That is, if my niece ever deigns to take hers off.
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