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EXCLUSIVE: House Republicans have asked the Biden administration to explain why it continues to require mask mandates for toddlers as young as 2 years old within the federal Head Start program even as coronavirus cases recede nationally.
GOP lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday urging the Biden administration to rescind the mandate.
The letter also asked HHS to deliver all documents related to its January decision to impose the mask mandate by late September, and demanded a staff-level briefing by next week so it can “better understand” that decision.
“Forcing a toddler to wear a mask all day isn’t just bad policy, it’s detrimental to a child’s development,” Rep. Michael Cloud of Texas, a senior member of the Oversight panel, told Fox News Digital. “The Biden administration’s decision to mandate low-income toddlers wear masks in school will undoubtedly hinder their learning and damage children’s social development at an incredibly critical age.”
GOP lawmakers urge the Department of Health and Human Services to rescind mask mandates for toddlers enrolled in Head Start. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Republicans say HHS’ decision to keep the mask mandate in place for toddlers contradicts Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. The CDC recommends masks only in areas with high COVID-19 transmission rates.
“Numerous studies have shown it is detrimental to children to be continually subjected to mask-wearing; children learning how to speak, interact socially, and interpret the world around them at early ages have the most to lose from this mask policy developmentally, economically, and educationally,” the lawmakers wrote.
Republicans said HHS’ decision to keep the mask mandate in place for toddlers makes the U.S. an outlier. They note that western European countries, including the U.K. and Denmark, have followed the World Health Organization’s recommendation that children under the age of 5 not be required to wear a mask.
They also argued that requiring masks in the Head Start program, which primarily serves children from low-income families, will put them behind kids in private schools, where masks are not mandated.
The decision by the Department of Health and Human Services to keep the mask mandate in place for toddlers contradicts Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. (Shawn Thew/Pool via AP, File)
“While private schools nationwide are going mask-optional, children in Head Start programs are put at an automatic disadvantage at a critical age due to continuing this policy,” wrote the lawmakers.
HHS officials issued an interim directive in January requiring masks for staff and children at Head Start programs. The department has kept the guidelines in place, even as most school districts across the country have lifted mask mandates.
HHS did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
In its January directive, HHS said masking toddlers was key to keeping COVID-19 at bay and ensuring that preschool and day care centers remain open.
"The Biden administration’s decision to mandate low-income toddlers wear masks in school will undoubtedly hinder their learning and damage children’s social development at an incredibly critical age," Rep. Michael Cloud of Texas told Fox News Digital. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
“Closures impose hardship on Head Start children and families by diminishing the ability to attend Head Start in person,” said the HHS directive. “The result is harm to early learning and development. Closures also diminish the ability of parents to work or participate in schooling.”
GOP lawmakers say HHS should make public all documents and studies it relied upon when making its decision to mask toddlers in the Head Start program.