Half a truth is often a great lie - Benjamin Franklin
I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts – Abraham Lincoln
I am a firm believer in Nova Scotians.
We are a province of a million people and a million stories; heritage borne of eking a living from the land and the sea. We are a province that, historically, wraps its arms around hurting neighbours, welcomes the “come-from-aways”, and makes a simple life look so appealing that people packed up lock, stock, and barrel to move to our shores. We smiled at strangers on the street, fund-raised for families in need, and had a kitchen party that went around the world.
When you read these real life experiences of your fellow Nova Scotians, I hope your Maritime heart will find its compassion and courage and begin to understand why so many are taking on these issues so passionately. There’s a grave deception circulating right now and we’re here to dismantle it. That deception is that mandatory mask mandates aren’t hurting anyone; that they’re not hurting our children. I’m not going to come at you with a clever meme, fact-checked article, or research paper (although I have offered just a few links and excerpts at the end for you to read for yourself). What I AM going to share with you are real stories. From real people. Our children.
Nova Scotians don’t always have a lot in terms of money or possessions, but there is one thing we prize and that is our kids. We sacrifice and work our fingers to the bone. We stand behind them as they make their way in the world because we KNOW how hard life can be and that they need us to be their champions and protectors. Whether these children are our own, our grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or little faces in our neighborhood, we are a province that takes great pride in our progeny. This is something we can all agree on.
I’ve spent the last several days doing phone interviews with real people; many of them parents and school children who were willing to share their stories of the physical and mental effects that mandatory masking in Nova Scotia schools has had on them. By Sunday evening I was drained from hearing so many personal accounts of the suffering these children are already experiencing.
School just resumed on September 8th. By the end of day one, parents were reaching out to each other personally and via social media to express their concern, frustration, and outright alarm at the condition some of their children were coming home from school in. These are parents who wanted to be compliant with the back-to-school requirements for masks on ALL children in grades 4 and up. They sent their kids with face coverings along with the hope that common sense and compassion would govern any policy enforced on kids as young as 8 years old. Imagine their consternation and panic when children arrived home that first day with the following information:
- They were required to wear their masks ALL day, even while facing forward in their seats
- Some weren’t allowed to remove them for lunch and had to pull their mask down to take a bite of food, then pull it back up over their mouth to chew
- Multiple reports of students only being given 10 minutes to eat their lunch
- Many were required to wear their masks for gym class during physical activity
- Many more were required to wear their mask outside during recess/lunch
- Children in grades P-3 being forced to wear masks
- If a child expressed anxiety, discomfort, or pain with the mask over their face some were told to "suck it up", or given a few minutes to pull it down while standing in the corner or outside the classroom
- Some children, in moments of panic or distress, pulled the masks down in class and were expelled from the room or from the school. Parents were called to pick them up and told not to bring them back unless the child was going to keep the mask on all day
- Multiple reports of children being denied bathroom breaks, as well as being denied access to refill water bottles in spite of being hot and sweating profusely with the masks on all day
These are a few examples of the stringent and unreasonable policies these children, some as young as 5 years old, are facing. More heartbreaking were the physical effects these children began to have within 1-2 days of wearing their mask all day.
Examples of issues parents described:
- Severe headaches requiring daily administration of a pain reliever as soon as the student arrived home from school
- Migraines and vomiting
- Peeling skin in the areas where the masks touched their faces
- Eczema flare-ups
- Chapped lips
- Acne flare-ups, including cystic acne
- Irritated throats
- Asthma attacks
- Flushed and clammy skin
- Extreme thirst
This alone should be enough to stop us all in our tracks and ask, “What are we doing here? Who have we become that we would inflict this level of physical suffering on our children in a province with low/no transmission for months?” (the 29 new cases since June 1 were all travel related)
Parents then went on to describe the mental health effects already presenting in their child(ren):
- Difficulty sleeping
- Bouts of crying
- Outbursts of uncharacteristic anger and aggression
- Withdrawal and depressed mood
- Begging not to go back to school
- Fear of reprisal from classmates and teachers for verbalizing the need to remove their mask
- Detachment from friendships; students are not allowed within six feet of even one close friend
Allow me to share several of the personal accounts shared with me over the last few days. Reflect on how you would feel if this were YOUR child.
(Names have been changed to protect identities)
Age: 8 Grade: 4
Ethan’s mom was understandably upset; after just 2 days of school her son was already in distress, both mentally and physically. She was quick to point out that her son had been raised to be respectful and cooperative; he went to school with the intent to oblige with the new mask rules. Ethan came home from the first day of school and said that he had been required to wear his mask all day, including during outdoor gym class and lunch. His mom had taken a photo of him in the morning, before leaving for school, skin clear and without blemish, big smile on his face. Seeing the condition of his complexion upon his return home she quickly took a comparative photo to show the startling difference. On his first day back, Ethan had come home with a rash where his mask touched his face. His nose was irritated as well. Mom informed me that Ethan is on a steroid spray for a deviated septum and after an entire day of the heat and moisture behind his mask, the INSIDE of his nose is now peeling. Additionally, due to the deviated septum, Ethan already has a bit of an issue with breathing which the mask exacerbated. The eyes of the boy coming in from school were very different from the smiling child who went out the door. He looked weary, sad, and discouraged.
Just when he should have been looking forward to some normalcy within a cohort of his friends at school, he is faced with the interminable task of wearing a mask in spite of the pain it is causing him. Ethan says he felt no compassion from the adults at school and that it was as if the only goal was to keep the masks on no matter what.
Age: 12 Grade: 6
Aimee’s mom and I spoke first, she wanted me to know how it was making her feel as a parent to see her child struggling under these conditions. After we chatted for a bit she handed the phone to her daughter. Aimee was articulate and well-spoken; clearly a respectful and intelligent young woman. I assured her identity would remain confidential and she could speak freely without fear of embarrassment or reprisal. At first she said she was doing “ok”, but then the words started to tumble out.
Aimee recounted how, on the first day, she repeatedly felt as though she couldn’t breathe, almost like she was suffocating. At one point she expressed her distress to the teacher and was told she could only pull the mask down to get some air if she went and stood outside her classroom. The whole process felt awkward, as though there was something wrong with her for asking to pull the mask down. “I decided it wasn’t worth the embarrassment of asking to get some air so I just kinda shut my mind off and tried to ignore the anxious feelings I was having”.
Aimee’s classroom was hot, and for most of the day her forehead was covered in a layer of perspiration. She said the feeling of being overheated and short of breath never went away and she worried all day if the sweating inside her mask was going to make her skin erupt in an acne breakout. But it was the feeling of never being able to get a full breath that bothered her the most. She recalls battling a depressed feeling and thinking, “I can’t do this; I’m not going to be able to stay in school this year”. What made it even more discouraging, and a little demeaning, was the fact that one teacher in particular would pull his mask down and take a break whenever he could social distance at the front of the room, only wearing it to circulate between desks. Yet students were not allowed to do so; she envied him being able to breathe freely.
Age: 15 Grade: 10
Kyle, like most teenagers, was ready to get back to school but not so happy about the idea of wearing a mask all day. Still, his mom encouraged him to follow the rules and find ways to get a break if it became too much. Kyle has a history of migraines; they are relatively infrequent, in part because he is aware of the things that trigger a headache and is cautious to avoid them.
The first few days of school were chaotic. On the ride home the students weren’t allowed to open the windows, and the September afternoon sun made the bus feel like an oven, particularly with their faces still covered. So kids started taking masks off, desperate for relief. Kyle told his mom that the driver pulled the bus over multiple times along the route home and walked back the bus aisle, forcing everyone to put their masks back on.
By Friday afternoon, Kyle could feel the beginning of a headache coming on and by the time he got home it was a full-blown migraine. Once that starts it’s a case of just riding out the pain. Eventually, Kyle vomited from the pain in his head. When she asked him what triggered this one he said, without hesitation, "days spent breathing his own carbon dioxide". Even before the headache came on he’d had a strong sense that it was affecting him as he “just didn’t feel right”.
Age: 12 Grade: 6
Jack is an asthmatic. His condition is severe enough that his parents have the same medication at home that he would receive at a hospital as there is a chance that he might not make it to a hospital alive during a severe asthma attack. Jack was diagnosed at 2 years of age; the school is aware and his information alongside multiple emergency contacts are in his file.
On the first day of school, Jack’s mom called the office and advised that he would try to wear his mask but may not be able to keep it on. This information was not received favourably, but she was told they would cross that bridge if they came to it.
On Monday of this week, Jack forgot to take his mask from home and the bus driver made him wear a disposable mask to get on the bus. Jack’s mom believes this was the first trigger as the mask was not breathable. When he got to school he asked for a better mask but was given one of the polyester masks provided by the Department of Education. He knew he was struggling and called his mother to bring his mask from home. His mom brought his mask and told him to call if he got worse. After lunch, she noticed a voicemail and checked her messages to find out that the school secretary had called once, asking her to pick Jack up, and then didn’t attempt to call any of the other emergency contact numbers. Mom rushed to get Jack from school and as soon as he approached her car she could see he was having retractions in his throat area, and was coughing and hoarse. When mom asked Jack what happened, he told her that when his attack started he was unable to keep a mask on so was placed in a room by himself. Someone did pop their head in a couple of times, but no one stayed with him.
Jack had to go home and immediately get on his nebulizer. When mom called the school and told them that Jack could not wear a mask for at least a few days, she was informed that he would have to be segregated away from the other students in a room by himself until he put the mask back on. Mom says Jack used to be the class clown, life-of-the party kind of kid. Now he comes home from school and lays on his bed quietly, depressed and despondent.
These are but a few of the DOZENS of personal stories flooding in from concerned parents and students. Yet, there has been this idea forced upon us that masks do no harm. What is happening to our children in our public schools is anything but OK.
Nova Scotia has had 29 cases of COVID-19 since June 1st. ALL of those cases have been travel related and caused no community spread. Does any benefit from masking children outweigh the very obvious harms they are suffering? Not in Nova Scotia. (Also of note: daycare's have been operating for months; no masks, no distancing, no outbreaks.)
Our Atlantic bubble neighbours in NB and PEI have not sent their children back to school under these appalling conditions. The common theme for them is masks on buses, masks in common areas, but inside their classrooms their children get to be… kids. That’s the plan OUR children were supposed to have, but we’ve learned that there’s more to this than meets the eye.
Tell me, are you OK with our children suffering this level of physical pain, psychological distress, and dehumanization in a province with one (travel related) case and no community spread for many months? Are you willing to accept their harm as collateral damage? If you are OK with that, why? If New Brunswick and PEI children are safe in their class bubbles, why are our children less entitled to that same joy at returning to their friends and learning? Or is there more at play here? Are you prepared to offer our kids up as sacrificial lambs for a battle that belongs solely between the NS Teacher's Union and the Government?
Yesterday, you had no idea what these kids are experiencing behind the locked doors of our public schools. But now you know. What are you willing to do about it?
Me, I’m going to fight for our children. I will never stop.
Our basis for challenging the mask mandate placed on our children in school classrooms is based on data and recommendations issued by global experts such as the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the renowned Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. You have probably heard parts of the recommendations, but not all, because most of the guidelines currently in place are prefaced by the idea of widespread community transmission. Yet our government has pressed ahead with masking school children as young as 5 years old when it directly contravenes these expert guidelines. I encourage you to read this literature for yourself as it’s instrumental in understanding when and how these mask mandates are to be used.
Let’s start with the WHO recommendations for masks on children:
“… An international and multidisciplinary expert group brought together by the WHO reviewed evidence on COVID-19 disease and transmission in children and the limited available evidence on the use of masks by children… Based on this and other factors such as children’s psycho-social needs and developmental milestones, WHO and UNICEF advise the following:"
- Children aged 5 years and under should not be required to wear masks. This is based on the safety and overall interest of the child and the capacity to appropriately use a mask with minimal assistance... If the child wears a mask, a parent or other guardian should be within direct line of sight to supervise the safe use of the mask.
WHO and UNICEF advise that the decision to use masks for children aged 6-11 should be based on the following factors:
- Whether there is widespread transmission in the area where the child resides
- Potential impact of wearing a mask on learning and psycho-social development
WHO and UNICEF advise that children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults; in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre of distance from others AND there is widespread transmission in the area
- The use of masks for children of any age with developmental disorders, disabilities or other specific health conditions should not be mandatory
- In any case, children with severe cognitive or respiratory impairments with difficulties tolerating a mask should not be required to wear masks
- Children should not wear a mask when playing sports or doing physical activities, such as running, jumping or playing on the playground, so that it doesn’t compromise their breathing
Please note the highlighted areas above, they are key guidelines to consider when forming mandatory mask policies, as per the WHO:
- Parents are not on buses - it seems children 5 and under should not be wearing them on the bus
- Whether there is widespread transmission in the are
- Potential impact on learning and psycho-social development
- WHO and UNICEF consider social distancing to be 1-metre, not 2
- Again, reference to widespread transmission
- Clear exemptions
- Clear statement on sports and physical activity
- Acknowledgement that masks can indeed compromise breathing
Now let’s look to the masking guidelines as set out by the SickKids Hospital in Toronto:
- “... Schools do not appear to have played a significant role in propagating SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Even when cases have been identified in schools, contact tracing and testing have not identified a large number of secondary cases in most circumstances. Furthermore, several countries have reopened schools without demonstrating a significant increase in cases when community rates have been low.”
- “The use of non-medical cloth masks/face coverings (NMMs) in the school setting is a complex and nuanced issue. Unfortunately, current evidence does not provide clarity on the optimal approach and needs to consider the broad range of student ages and developmental levels, the varying ability to practice physical distancing indoors, as well as the dynamic level of risk associated with community spread at any particular time and within specific communities. Based on current public health guidance recommending or mandating the use of NMMs in indoor public settings, we are currently recommending the use of masks for high school students (with consideration for middle school students) whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained (provided there is no contra-indication for developmental, medical or mental health reasons). It is important to try to find periods in the day where NMMs can be safely removed. However, given that there has been considerable disagreement among the authors around this issue, it will be critical to assess the use of masks on an ongoing basis throughout the school year and adjust accordingly based on the development of further evidence, changes and epidemiology. (Note these specific recommendations are based on the situation in Ontario)
- “...In order to be effective, NMMs would need to be worn correctly, which for many otherwise healthy children and youth will be difficult to do for a full school day; even more significant barriers exist for children and youth with underlying medical, developmental and mental health conditions.”
- “There was not full agreement among contributors on the need and role of NMM use in children… The guidance statements below reflect the consensus recommendation and the percentages indicate the level of agreement among the contributing pediatric care providers.”
Consensus Guidance Statements:
- The use of NMMs in the school setting should be driven by local epidemiology with age-specific considerations (94%)
- When transmission in the community is low, the use of NMMs throughout the entire school day should not be mandatory for elementary, middle or high school students (78%)
- School-aged children and youth who are not able to remove their NMM without assistance should not wear a NMM due to safety concerns. NMMs should also not be worn by children or youth who cannot tolerate a NMM due to cognitive, sensory or mental health issues
Please note the highlighted areas above, they are key guidelines to consider when forming mandatory mask policies, as per the SickKids Hospital:
- Schools have not played a significant role in the spread of COVID-19 around the world
- Where there have been cases, rarely has further spread been confirmed
- When community spread is low, schools have not caused a drastic increase in cases
- There is limited evidence available to draw from regarding masking children in schools, a cautious and well thought out approach is required
- Local epidemiology is a significant factor that should drive mask policies
- Masking elementary students in not recommended and not typically for Junior High students either
- Developmental, mental and medical issues need significant consideration and masking should not apply to these children
- Acknowledgment that masking all day will be very challenging, and should not apply at any grade level when community spread is low
Author: Tammy Kaulback
Editing and Collaboration Credits: Megan K, Patrick Manning