Why is NYC’s arts community still punishing kids by forcing them to mask?
After 30 months of brutally restricting our city’s children over inflated fears about their susceptibility to COVID-19, the arts community inexplicably won’t stop. Even as city- and state-enforced edicts have slipped into the annals of history, children’s mask and vaccine mandates remain alive in many museums, theaters and other cultural venues.
Parents like me often learn about these dictates via a school note about a class trip, when we have little recourse. First, the good news: Your child is being given a beautiful opportunity to see a show at the Alvin Ailey or New Victory Theater — hooray! Oh, but by the way, he or she will be required to “mask up.” Often the masking is framed as something children must do “out of respect.”
Of course these cultural institutions have parents over a barrel. Because while New York City’s public-school kids 5 and up were freed from their masks March 7 (the mayor’s toddler mask mandate for ages 2 to 4 didn’t end until June 13), these partly publicly funded private fiefdoms can continue to mandate any ineffective mitigation they choose — with neither consequences nor motivation to restore normal for child visitors.
When it comes to perpetuating COVID hysteria, museums are as retrograde as children’s theater. MoMath, for instance, still requires masks. The Jewish Museum dropped its mask mandate but requires visiting school groups to mask up. El Museo del Barrio continues to make everyone mask. The Whitney only requires masks in the children’s open studio (!).
What will it take for the arts to follow the science? By now states like Florida and many European countries aren’t even recommending the vaccine for healthy children. Yet Alvin Ailey Dance requires small children enrolling to have boosters.
Europe never masked children under 6 and only rarely masked kids under 12. Pre-pandemic, Americans often praised European models for child protection. But when it comes to COVID, it’s as if Europe doesn’t exist.
Nor can the mainstream admit that masking children and the adults around them for extended periods of time is demonstrably harmful. Surely even the most mask-obsessed parents must intuit that covering their children’s faces has a real cost.
A British survey released just days ago revealed 75% of teachers reported that masks muffled sound, made communication harder for special-needs kids and discouraged quieter children from class participation. Masks made it especially difficult for hard-of-hearing kids who need to read lips and special-needs kids who struggle to pick up non-verbal cues. Children said masking made them anxious.
Who is responsible for these extended anti-child, anti-science predatory policies that take advantage of captive audiences during what should be sublime and elevating experiences?
Just a year ago, despite the pediatric vaccine’s emergency-use authorization, Broadway demanded that kids under 12 wear masks and show a negative COVID test to attend. The Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall barred them altogether, relegating children to true viral-vector status. Young musicians and opera aficionados missed out on two priceless years of live performance even as their peers in other states were living their best lives.
When I phoned Alvin Ailey to ask why it’s forcing children to cover their faces during a school performance meant to be social, interactive and fun, the terse response was “What’s the big deal, it’s just a mask!” When I pressed further, explaining that masks do more harm than good, especially to children, I was told to keep my child home and skip the performance altogether if I wouldn’t comply. This would also mean a missed day of school, but Ailey remained undeterred.
This hurt me to the core. As a lifelong patron of the arts, I can’t understand the logic — and the casual indifference to restoring children’s joy, wonder and essential connection to the arts, something they need now more than ever.
Children have been through so much already. When will the abuse stop?
Natalya Murakhver is co-founder of Restore Childhood, a nonprofit dedicated to ending COVID mandates for children and restoring athletics, art and academics across the United States. She is producing “15 Days . . .”, a documentary on the lockdowns.