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A top Minnesota public health official told parents that masking their children is a “best practice” for mitigating the spread of COVID-19, but he appeared to contradict himself behind closed doors, reportedly telling staff that masking is among the “least effective” mitigation technique.
Bloomington Public Health Administrator Nick Kelley advises the Bloomington, Edina, and Richfield school districts on COVID-19 policies, which includes recommendations for the universal masking of students and school staff.
In August, he told parents during a “Return to School” webinar that in addition to getting their kids vaccinated, making them wear masks in the classroom is the next best practice for mitigating the spread of the virus.
One month later, Kelley was heard telling Bloomington Public Health staff that masking is among the “least effective” mitigation techniques, Minnesota think tank American Experiment revealed, citing a recording of Kelley’s remarks
It was back to school for some students at Harvest Best Academy in Minneapolis, but with masks, plastic barriers and other new precautions in the era of COVID-19. Here, para professional Jaevon Walton, middle, reminded a student to wear his face mask in a learning pod of 2nd through 7th graders, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Photo by David Joles/Star Tribune via Getty Images)
“In terms of purely broad effectiveness, the least effective mitigation we’re implementing in this process is masking,” Kelley said in a recording of the closed-door meeting on Sept. 3, obtained by the conservative think tank. “Masking, the quality of the consistency of the fit, all those things are highly variable in a population setting.”
“[Masks are] incredibly effective in a healthcare setting when you’re wearing certain kinds issued gear and things of that nature,” Kelley reportedly said. “But at an elementary school level, I know from dropping my kids off, I see kids wearing dirty old masks, cloth masks that look like they don’t fit and they have a half inch gap under their chin to high quality masks to the equivalent to respirators, Kn94s and Kn95s. So there’s a wide gamut.”
Kelley was took a more confident tone about masks in his remarks to parents.
“They’re called best practices because this is the evidence-based data we have for driving how to protect kids in school environments based on experiences we saw in the last two school years,” Kelley said in the meeting, which was livestreamed on YouTube on Aug. 2. “Masking is at the top of that list. The ability to have source control and then some aspect of protection for the wearer is a phenomenal tool to control a respiratory pathogen like COVID.”
“My kids seem to be surprised when they’re not wearing a mask and we go somewhere,” the father of three added. “They seem accustomed to wearing it.”
Masked students wait to go to their classroom during the first day of class at Stanford Elementary School in Garden Grove, CA on Monday, August 16, 2021. Students and teacher were required to wear masks in the classroom but not outside. ((Photo by Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images))
When asked for clarification, Kelley sent a statement to Fox News saying his agency “continues to advocate for a multi-layered approach to stop the spread of COVID-19, including vaccination, improving ventilation, social distancing, masking, getting tested when appropriate, staying home when you’re sick, and more.”
“Remarks made in August noted masks were high on the list of these layers of protections, as COVID-19 vaccines for children age 11 and younger were not yet available,” he continued. “Masking was something parents could do to minimize risks to their children. Other interventions were, and still are, in the control of the school district to implement.
“Remarks in September were in response to the question: What are the mitigation levers in addition to masking for schools?” he added. “The response included additional steps to masking that school districts could take, including maximizing airflow and exploring policies for vaccination and screening of symptoms.”
During a community forum for Edina Public Schools Monday evening, Kelley said that while vaccination remains the No. 1 tool in combating COVID-19, the “layers of mitigation” like masking are still “critical.”
He said he doesn’t believe masking should be made optional for students any time soon.
“When we have case rates in the 100 per 100,000 and our hospitals are overwhelmed, that is not the time to make a change. I like to see stability and soundness and data,” Kelley said. “So, wait a couple of weeks. If we’re on a continuous trend for several weeks, things are stable, things aren’t changing, then start having those conversations. But if you take things down, you’ve got to have a process to take it back up.”
“The data is consistent,” he said. “Without [masking] we see a higher case rate, we see more health risks, we see more challenges. There are districts in the metro that don’t have much in the way of requirements or enforcement. Those schools are routinely facing challenges with case rates and challenges with mitigation.”