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U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, this week pressed U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra on the department’s one-size-fits-all federal mask mandates on Head Start programs. This HHS interim final rule (IFR) requires all staff and volunteers in Head Start educational facilities to be vaccinated and requires all staff, volunteers, and children two years of age and older to wear masks – even when they are on the playground.
In February, Thune introduced a resolution to nullify this IFR, and in December 2021, he introduced separate legislation to do the same. In January, he led his colleagues in sending a letter to Secretary Becerra requesting that the administration rescind the IFR.
The Head Start program is a federal program that provides qualifying, low-income children with early education services. Program facilities are located throughout the nation and, up until the issuance of this IFR, individual locations had been able to set and enforce their own COVID-19 protocols. Although this rule has been temporarily halted by federal courts in several states, including South Dakota, the only way to ensure it never sees the light of day is to permanently rescind it nationwide.
On masking kids on the playground (except):
“[Masking children] is just a real overreach at a time when parents, a lot of parents at least, [and] a lot of kids are struggling and struggling with learning – they've gotten behind – and I think a lot of it has to do with, associated with, the impact of masks and their ability to socialize with other kids and also to, you know, to be able to learn at the fastest rate possible. So I would just I urge you, encourage you, given where we are with the pandemic, that this is one – particularly when kids are on the playground, when they're outside – that makes no sense to me.”