Wake County schools official rationalizes masking two-year-olds to help them "accept full mask compliance"
WCPSS Assistant Superintendent for Student Support Services Paul Koh proposed masking kids 2 and up at the Feb. 1 board meeting
Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS) Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Paul Koh made a request to mask kids as young as two-years-old at the Feb. 1 school board meeting.
Koh requested they follow recommendations that children two and older be masked indoors and on district transportation. Masks can only be removed by these young children for eating, drinking, and sleeping.
The most incredible moment was when Koh suggested masking kids at age two would help them "accept full mask compliance" and to "normalize it later."
"It's like if you're a two year old and trying to help them practice for age three and then four and they are going into pre-k classrooms and from there trying to help them get into a normalized situation wearing masks where potentially they are in a kindergarten class and so forth," Koh said. "That's what we're trying to do and it's with a developmental lens and not with a 'you must do this lens'."
Here’s the clip of those remarks:
Koh said the recommendations for small children to mask came from N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE).
It's unclear what DCDEE guidance Koh is referring to as the DCDEE COVID updates section has not been added to since August of 2021.
The StrongSchoolsNC toolkit and its Frequently Asked Questions document were both apparently updated again on Jan. 13 and Jan. 6, respectively.
There is also a toolkit purely about Contact Tracing Procedures. That addition was created and published on Feb 1, 2022, and like the StrongSchoolsNC toolkit, there was no announcement or notice to the public.
Both Jan. updates state that "all adults and all children two (2) years or older, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask at all times when indoors."
Koh glossed over the staff vaccination rates, stating they were 80 to 90 percent. So which is it, 80 or 90 or somewhere between?
Koh also cited county transmission rates and the number of cases and said both were dropping. In fact, the numbers he cited showed the case rates were cut nearly in half over the last week. He then turned around and said that the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services StrongSchoolsNC toolkit says masking should be based on local case rates and positivity levels.
The toolkit says that if community transmission rates are deemed high, per levels dictated by the CDC, masks should stay in place. The toolkit only allows making masks optional for vaccinated persons if those rates are declining for at least seven days, which is the case in Wake County and most of the state.
Koh then launched into a list of all the mask requirements currently in place before implying young kids ages two and up should wear masks so they can be trained to accept them as they age.
He said there are 24 two-year-olds in one of their Ready to Learn programs and pressed the idea that kids should be individually assessed for "their ability to wear a mask correctly" and be able to take it off themselves.
"So with this change from the DCDEE guidance, we wanted to note that we are implementing this guidance per the best practice suggestion and our recommendation this evening is to approve our current face-covering guidance,” Koh told the board. “With the addition of the updates suggested by the Division of Child Development and Early Education for students ages two years and older to be required to wear masks indoors and on transportation, noting that masks may be removed while eating and drinking and masks should not be worn while sleeping or at naptime."
Board member Roxie Cash said the board has had emails asking why two-year-olds are now being required to mask and asked Koh to explain.
Koh referred back to DCDEE's toolkit, saying it was their idea, but let it slip this guidance is for childcare centers and daycares, not K-12 district-run operations.
He did not answer the question of why small children are being asked to mask and Cash did not follow up.
Member Jim Martin said it was their responsibility to listen to public health officials. He went on a bit of a tear about cloth masks, which the district had been handing out prior to the CDC's admission cloth masks were fairly useless.
Martin also admitted, "none of our masks are 100% effective at keeping the virus from getting through."
Chair Lindsay Mahaffey asked if the masking for small kids reduces any quarantine times. Koh said, "it depends on the situation" since WCPSS overall requires masking. Mahaffey didn't follow up to get an answer to her actual question.
Board member Karen Carter also questioned they were trying to add the measure at this point in time. Koh offered no answer other than a toolkit suggested to do it.
Christine Kushner restated the same question Mahaffey posed about masks cutting quarantine rates. Koh again had no answer to the question other than to point at what the DCDEE toolkit said should be implemented. The question was rehashed a bit later on, with Koh pointing back to NCDHHS as an answer.
While the board ended up voting down the masking of 2-year-olds, the board's remarks coupled with Koh's attempt to mask children as young as two make it pretty clear the board has no interest in or plan for a masking offramp.
On an end note, both Mahaffey and Cash were attending the meeting remotely due to having COVID. It is unclear what the vaccination status is of board members including Cash and Mahaffey.
Watch Koh’s remarks here at around the 2:41:00 mark: