Throughout the pandemic, there has been so much controversy about masking and distancing.  I’m not an infectious disease specialist, epidemiologist, or even a public health researcher. I’m just a pediatrician. But, I feel like most pediatricians are like “canaries in the coalmine.” We see respiratory infections on the front lines before the research numbers come out. And we have seen the effects of masking and distancing firsthand.

The Mayhem of Runny Noses, Congestion, Coughing, and Fever

If you speak with any pediatrician, you will find that they are always bracing for the start of school and wintertime. You don’t have to be a scientist to understand what that means. Kids getting together after a hiatus of being apart and kids being together during the height of a viral transmission season are proof enough. Just walk into any pediatrician’s office and see the mayhem of runny noses, congestion, coughing, and fever.

COVID-19 infections aside, we battle tons of other viral infections—influenza, rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), metapneumovirus, and many others. If you ask a pediatrician what the pandemic has been like for them, you’ll get an interesting response. Most people think that we were swamped with sick kids for the entire pandemic. But, the opposite was true.  When kids were distancing and masking regularly, the number of kids with respiratory illnesses plummeted. I personally didn’t diagnose a child with influenza or RSV for over a year, which is unbelievable and surreal given that we prepare for influenza and RSV season like clockwork.

One interesting observation has been the parental experience with having kids in daycare.  When the pandemic started and we would see children with injuries or other, non-respiratory illnesses, parents would routinely tell us how healthy their kids have been without going to daycare or having them mask/distance from other kids. Now, we have a new group of parents coming to the clinic with kids who’ve just started daycare or who’s daycares are not masking/distancing—with relaxing the pandemic protective measures—and they are lamenting about how their children have been sick with a runny nose, cough, and congestion for weeks or months!

What Controversy?

Returning to the controversy about masks and distancing, I really don’t see one. While research needed to be done to prove to some people that these measures mitigate the risk of transmission of respiratory viruses, it only reinforced what pediatricians have always known:  Masking and distancing work. If you don’t believe it, I dare you to visit a crowded pediatrician’s office at the beginning of the school year or during wintertime and hang out for a while. It may change your mind.