Trust Index: Fact-checking DeSantis’ statement on children wearing masks in school

CDC says students should wear masks in the classroom this fall

ORLANDO, Fla. – The office of Gov. Ron DeSantis released a statement after hearing the recommendations from officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said even fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors as the coronavirus cases increase across the country.

The recommendation also advises everyone to wear a mask at school this fall.

“Governor DeSantis believes that parents know what’s best for their children; therefore, parents in Florida are empowered to make their own choices with regards to masking. Experts have raised legitimate concerns that the risks of masking outweigh the potential benefits for children, because masking children can negatively impact their learning, speech, emotional and social development, and physical health (e.g., infections from bacteria that’s often found on masks, difficulty breathing while exercising in masks, etc.) Fortunately, the data indicate that COVID is not a serious risk to healthy children, which is why schools in most countries were among the first institutions to reopen. At the end of the day, the Governor trusts parents to weigh the risks and benefits and make the best choices for their kids.”

[RELATED: Gov. Ron DeSantis responds after CDC recommends masks in schools]

One part of the statement makes claims that require a deeper examination.

Some experts note there are concerns about learning, but pediatric experts from Johns Hopkins University and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital released the following on the topic:

“Masks will not affect your child’s ability to focus or learn in school.”

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But one psychoanalyst offered a different approach.

“They can’t see the smile, they can’t tell if the person is angry, sad, or whatever, but children are very resilient,” said Dr. Felecia Powell-Williams.

Powell-Williams specializes in clients who have suffered trauma, and she said face masks offer a teachable moment for parents.

“It’s important not only to talk about the social cues, the emotional cases that go along with that, but to talk about the reason why, and to talk about it in a child-friendly way,” she said. “(Do it) in a way in which the child will be able to understand, but also with the significance.”

Another part of Desantis’ statement says masks cause physical health problems like infections and making it difficult for students to breathe.

A consensus of doctors from hospitals across the country says that is not the case.

[RELATED: CDC recommends vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors]

“There’s no evidence of masks leading to fungal or bacterial infections of the upper airway or the lower airway as in pneumonia,” an infectious disease specialist and professor of global health and medicine at Boston University Davidson Hamer said.

A pulmonologist from the University of Washington School of Medicine also touched on the subject.

“If you’ve tried exercising in a mask, you know how it can make you feel like you’re not getting enough air. While this can be scary, exercising while masked up isn’t dangerous,” Dr. Coralynn Sack said.

Officials with the Mayor Clinic said masks do not cause hypoxia.

“Carbon dioxide will freely diffuse through your mask as you breathe,” Mayo Clinic said on its website.

Development psychologist and associate professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Eva Chen is quoted in the New York Times saying students wearing masks will not negatively impact their learning in the classroom.

[RELATED: Concerned about your child’s mental health heading back to school? An expert shares tips for parents]

“There is no evidence that children from cultures with much more extensive face covering are any worse at recognizing faces or emotions. In Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia, it’s standard to wear masks as protection against illness or air pollution.”

Based on the information offered by physicians and our conversation with Powell-Williams, the governor’s statements on the negative impacts of masks worn by students in schools get “Be Careful” on the News 6 Trust Index.

Trust Index: Be Careful

About the Authors:

Phil Landeros joined WKMG-TV as an executive producer in March 2021.

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.