Health Opinion Schools

Local MD: Impact of School Mask Mandates Likely ‘Minimal’ at Best (Letter to the Editor)

Mask Schools Kids Southern Lehigh Letter

Letter writer Rochelle Steiner-Friel, MD, of Upper Saucon Township, says the Southern Lehigh School Board was right to end its mask mandate in district schools. She writes that the potential harm masks can cause children outweighs any benefit from their compulsory use, which she believes is “likely minimal” at best.

Est. Read Time: 4 mins

Editor’s Note: Links to source material as well as footnotes have been added to this letter with the writer’s consent for the purpose of providing clarity and context.

Recently the Southern Lehigh School Board voted to end the mask mandate for all.(1) This bold 7-2 vote–with the only dissenters being board members Dr. Christopher Wayock and Mr. William Lycett, who believed the mandate should expire immediately as previously planned–was based on the balance between risk and benefit, considering what is currently known about the health and welfare of our children. Realizing that other neighboring school districts including Quakertown Community and Saucon Valley(2) have already moved to a mask optional policy, without any known harm to the operation of their schools, I believe the decision was made taking into consideration the entirety of the community input with the best interest of the students in mind.

Mask Schools Kids Southern Lehigh Letter

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The local health care advice has seemed to be focused on the benefits of universal masking, with the only focus being the outcomes on the pandemic and never mentioning risks. I have conducted what I believe to be a comprehensive review of the literature on universal masking in and out of the schools. In my opinion, at best the literature shows a modest reduction in spread of the virus in certain situations; most pronounced if used within a household to prevent household transmission. I cannot find any argument that states that masks will have a positive impact on the health of the children themselves during this pandemic, which has mercifully spared the great majority of children from severe illness.

The UK recently came to the same conclusion.(3) Their own study failed to demonstrate a clear benefit from masking in an educational setting.(4) In contrast to our local medical advice, their discussion includes a recognition of the risks of masking children in an educational environment. This is something I have not heard from our local medical community since I became engaged as schools closed in August 2020. Most students in the UK have not been mandated to wear masks continuously throughout the pandemic, as ours have in the Southern Lehigh School District. According to the study’s evidence summary:

“Wearing face coverings may have physical side effects and impair face identification, verbal and non-verbal communication between teacher and learner. This means there are downsides to face coverings for pupils and students, including detrimental impacts on communication in the classroom.”

Many of these similar concerns and others have been voiced for months by parents of students who have noticed such side effects on their own children. In the past, their concerns have been dismissed by health care professionals speaking at board meetings as selfish, unsubstantiated by published medical evidence or politically motivated. In reality, we may never know how mask wearing continuously for almost two years during school has impacted the youngest and most vulnerable in our population. However, the failure of our medical advisors to address the risks of masking children leads to an erroneous conclusion that there are only benefits.

>>Opposing Viewpoint: “Southern Lehigh School Board Ignored Teachers, Students, Hospitals, Doctors.”

I applaud the board for taking into consideration not only the potential modest impact on community spread of one particular virus, but also the entirety of the welfare of our children when allowing our children and parents to decide the impact of masking and what is in the best interest of these children as individuals. In reality, the impact of universal masks on students to the trajectory of COVID-19 in our community is likely minimal, if they are having any impact at all. The changes to their school years including universal masking will prove to be the ones with long lasting effects.

Rochelle Steiner-Friel, MD
Upper Saucon Township

About letters to the editor

Letters to the editor should be about general topics of local interest and must be signed. Views expressed in letters and other opinions shared on Saucon Source are solely those of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the views of the publisher, advertisers and/or others affiliated with Saucon Source LLC. Letters may be submitted to jo**@sa**********.com for consideration.

(1) The 7-2 vote in favor of making masks optional in schools beginning Jan. 24 was taken at the Jan. 10 Southern Lehigh School Board meeting. For further details, see the draft minutes of the Jan. 10 school board meeting here. The next school board meeting will be held Monday, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the Southern Lehigh High School cafeteria.

(2) Per its updated Health & Safety Plan, Saucon Valley School District has a two-tiered masking policy in place in which masks are optional or required according to the number of COVID cases in a school building during a one-week period.

(3) The results of the UK study referenced in this letter may be found here. The study also reported that, “Whilst not conclusive, there are now a number of scientific studies which consider the association between COVID-19 and the use of face coverings specifically in education settings. … The results were mixed but taken together support the conclusion that the use of face coverings in schools can contribute to reducing COVID-19 transmission.” The overall findings of the study regarding the effectiveness of mask use in schools were reported by the BBC on Jan. 6, 2022 as being “inconclusive.”

(4) In the results of the study, it is noted that “further work should be done to extend the analysis in terms of scope: for example, looking at different statistical methodologies, capturing different and longer treatment time periods and controlling for a wider number of school and local area variables to ensure this is a consistent finding.”


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About the author

Josh Popichak

Josh Popichak is the owner, publisher and editor of Saucon Source. A Lehigh Valley native, he's covered local news since 2005 and previously worked for Berks-Mont News and AOL/Patch. Contact him at

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