Kids should not be wearing masks while playing sports

BY MEGAN MANSELL

Human growth and development is a highly sensitive process, affected by slight changes in hormones and chemical processes, including changes in respiration. The brain is still developing during pubescent years, as are the critical components of human reproduction; an assault on these systems is an assault on the health and well-being of the developing body, with long-term consequences that can determine the health of an individual for the rest of his or her life.

Enter masks. We must maintain homeostatic levels of blood oxygen saturation and remain below a certain threshold of carbon dioxide (CO2) in order to function as healthy individuals. Anything outside of a spectrum of normalcy comes with dire, predictable consequences, and those worsen with longer periods of exposure. We (mainly through OSHA) regulate workplace exposure levels of CO2 and oxygen saturation, but who is looking out for the teens being run hard without recourse, like those being forced to run in masks for marching band practice, or those running track? 

As Stanford Epidemiologist Dr. Martin Kulldorff said at a March 18 roundtable hosted by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, “Children should not wear face masks. They don’t need it for their own protection, and they don’t need it for protecting other people, either.” 

Dr. Scott Atlas is quoted regarding masked exercise as saying, “It’s not just unnecessary; it’s harmful.” 

Here we will expand on all of the avenues why this can be harmful. In addition to concerns with blood saturation of oxygen and CO2, masks lessen the lower visual field, which makes falls more likely and impacts coordination. Masks have true microbial concerns, as they make excellent breeding grounds for many pathogens and are a magnet for pollen. They create a moist area around the mouth and nose, and for teens who are acne-prone, this can exacerbate underlying issues. There are better options for students who come from families in need of better protection, but the biggest problem of all with masks, especially masks chosen for their comfort, is that they do not protect the wearer or those surrounding the wearer from transmissible emissions within the COVID-19 range.

Respirators graded for COVID-19-size particulates are not apparatuses you can run in without quickly feeling the effects of obstructed respiration. If you can run in it, you are not protecting yourself or anyone else, but also masking creates a false sense of security, as masks can exacerbate the spread of airborne pathogens due to forced aerosolization of droplets through a membrane and pressurized plumes, increasing the atmospheric viral load within a respiratory range of fine particulates that do not respond predictably to gravity and remain aloft for hours.

Furthermore, double-masking with some available masks can certainly kill you (please do not ever run in double-layered P100s, for instance). With some masks, even single-masking can lead to death, depending on underlying health. This should be a conversation about medical consent and informed personal risk assessment, where we must consider all details at play before claiming to have quelled the chaos variables at play, especially when lives are truly at risk. 

Lastly, I ask you to think about the zebras instead of assuming horses when you hear hoofbeats. There are true atrocities that have taken place in this world that don’t fit our preconceived notions of the lives of children. There are and have always been kids and teens in public schools who have experienced torture and abuse. It is not the business of school districts to ask them to relive their tragedies over and over, going through denials and appeals in order to receive what is truly their birthright: a free and appropriate public education. All have a right to the least restrictive educational environment, no matter their exceptionality, wherein mere presence does not constitute direct threat, even for contagious diseases (for reference, these topics are clearly covered in IDEA 300.114-300.119 and ADA Subsection B, with a host of covered qualifying conditions, below).

By law, all students in public school districts have equal access to extracurricular activities, including sports. There can be exemptions sent through at the district level, but medical privacy is something districts have typically taken very seriously, as it is not the business of anyone else on a sports team to know the reason for exemption. In summary, one does not need to reiterate and relive what is “wrong” with them or what qualifies them for exemption based on the whim of community gatekeepers.

There is a reason people weren’t interrogated for using a wheelchair ramp or barred from getting flu meds before COVID-19. Until we, as a society, dive into the comprehensive public sector access laws and regulations that maintain peace in our shared spaces, helping to emulsify the opposing forces brought forth through equal rights and competent representation, we will continue down this road toward total tyranny, where no parties emerge as victors. 

For a deep dive on the extreme harms of extended deoxygenation and increased CO2 exposure, see this study.

Megan Mansell is a former district education director over special populations integration, serving students who are profoundly disabled, immunocompromised, undocumented, autistic, and behaviorally challenged; she also has a background in hazardous environs PPE applications. She is experienced in writing and monitoring protocol implementation for immunocompromised public sector access under full ADA/OSHA/IDEA compliance. She can be reached at [email protected]

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