RICHMOND, Va. -- Tonia Peake applauded Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin's executive order that gave parents the power to choose whether their children wore masks in school at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, it's a decision the Chesterfield mother made for her children before the governor ever took office when she withdrew her children from public school.
“The chronic headaches and the nosebleeds and the depression. All of that immediately lifted," she said.
One of her children experiences chronic nosebleeds, she said, and could not deal with her condition while wearing a mask. While in public school, her children were granted medical mask exemptions and told to wear face shields.
“My first grader was saying, 'mom, I can't see in the colors,' when they talk about you know, what color is this? It looks different behind this shield," Peake said.
As part of Governor Youngkin’s executive order that makes masks optional in school, his office put out a statement that read, in part:
“Data shows that constant mask wearing can have harmful side effects on some of our children.”
“I haven't seen any studies in the K-12 population that have demonstrated developmental harms," Dr. Tiffany Kimbrough, with Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, said.
So what is the source of the governor’s data?
His office pointed to an August 2021 Brown University study that looked at the impact of COVID-19 on early child cognitive development.
Researchers examined children ages up to age three, not yet old enough to elementary school.
They analyzed scores in the areas of thinking ability, verbal skills, and non-verbal skills and compared them to kids who they have followed since 2011.
While it is true children born during or right before the pandemic had lower scores, researchers looked at several environmental factors of the pandemic, not just mask wearing.
The study was not peer-reviewed which means it has not been published in a scholarly journal, and it has not been endorsed by the wider scientific community.
“We have to take this study for what it is, it's helpful," Dr. Kimbrough said about the study which she called not applicable to children in grades K thru 12. “What this study tells us and supports is what we already know, pandemics are hard. But it doesn't specifically comment about mask wearing.”
Dr. Kimbrough said masks could impact children who have known speech delays.
"They end up working with a speech therapist," she said, "It's really important that they are able to watch mouth movement so that they can work on those skills.”
Additional sources we found online show masks can cause setbacks among babies and toddlers when inferring emotion and trying to communicate.
The European CDC has advised against mask wearing in primary school and the World Health Organization doesn’t recommend masks for children five and younger.
Richmond mother Julie Trevy said her children, ages 12 and 15, have never complained about wearing a mask and will continue to do so until they feel like it's safe for them to come off.
“They're not fighting it. So if my children aren't fighting it, and it's the right thing to do, then it is the right thing to do," she said. "They are so happy to be back in school with their friends and able to learn and be with their teachers and talk to their teachers. Both of them are so happy to be there that they will do what it takes to be there."
Ultimately, Dr. Kimbrough recommended a layered approach — including masks — to reduce the risk for COVID-19 spread.
This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email firstname.lastname@example.org to send a tip.