President Joe Biden’s Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra evaded New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik’s questions on why the agency still requires toddlers to wear masks in its Head Start program during a Wednesday hearing.
“Mr. Secretary, I wanted to raise what I’m hearing from thousands of constituents who are very concerned about the mandate requiring masks for young children and toddlers in Head Start programs,” Stefanik asked Becerra. “Why is your agency still imposing this harmful mask mandate on toddlers and young children in the head start program?”
“Obviously, we’re still within this pandemic and it’s a very salient question,” Becerra responded. “What I would say to you is that we know that masks are safe and they are effective.”
Becerra added that “science is guiding [them] on the actual implementation of those policies” relating to masking toddlers and young children.
Head Start and Early Head Start are federally-funded programs for children five years old and younger from low-income families and focus on cognitive, social, and emotional development, according to the programs’ website.
The Head Start program requires anyone who is older than 2 years old to wear a mask inside regardless of vaccination status, except in certain situations like eating or drinking. It also requires unvaccinated individuals to wear masks outdoors where there are a lot of people or there is “sustained close contact,” according to the HHS guidance.
Stefanik asked Becerra about Biden’s position on masking children under the age of five despite its impact on the cognitive development of young children.
“So the position of you, Mr. Secretary, and the position of President Joe Biden, is to require masks on children under the age of five, which science, in fact, proves that masks hurt children both in the development, whether it’s intellectual development, speech development. That is the position of President Joe Biden?” Stefanik asked.
“We know that science shows those least impacted by the COVID pandemic are the youngest of young children,” she added
Becerra noted the mask policies for Head Start programs were being reviewed.
Stefanik also pressed Becerra on the negative impacts of mask-wearing for children under the age of five.
“What do you say to the studies about the speech delay? What do you say to the studies about how in fact … the transmission rates and the effect … negative effects of COVID is the lowest of the low when you’re talking about children under the age of five?” Stefanik asked. “What do you say to those studies?”
Becerra claimed that mask-wearing does not impact a child’s language or emotional development.
HHS’ own guidance on Head Start masking mandates states that “some toddlers and very young children may need more support because masks hide people’s faces, which makes it harder to read facial expressions.”
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