WATCH: Rep. Kevin Kiley Fillets HHS Secretary Becerra Over Mask Mandate on Two-Year-Olds

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File

On Tuesday, Congressman Kevin Kiley (R-CA) grilled Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on the mask mandates for children as young as two years old in Head Start programs nationwide. Head Start is a federally funded early childhood education program for middle and lower-income families.

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The State of Texas, under Attorney General Ken Paxton, sued Becerra and HHS for these mandates. In April, a Texas federal judge ended the Head Start requirements for students as young as two years old to wear masks, ruling that the HHS had no authority to impose a mask mandate along with vaccine mandates for staff. The mandates caused Head Start program directors to suffer both staff and student shortages.

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Now, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce is investigating the implementation of these requirements. The exchange between Rep. Kevin Kiley and HHS Secretary Becerra is transcribed for our readers below.

Rep. Kevin Kiley asks HHS Secretary Becerra:

Mr. Secretary, did forcing two-year-olds to wear masks save lives?

Becerra:

Do what now?

Kiley:

Did forcing two-year-olds wearing masks save lives?

Becerra:

Making sure people were masked when it was appropriate was essential to making sure we were able to get out of this pandemic.

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Kiley:

Sure, but that wasn’t my question. Could you answer the question that I asked?

Becerra:

Which is?

Kiley:

Did forcing two-year-olds to wear masks save lives?

Becerra:

And who did the forcing?

Kiley:

Well, your department, or the Head Start which is under your department, had a mask mandate until late last year for two-year-olds and above even outdoors. So can you point to any health benefit of that policy?

Becerra:

Right, we never forced anyone to do anything because we don’t have the jurisdiction or authority to do that. What we did was provide guidance on what would be [inaudible] policy…

Kiley:

Mr. Secretary, did Head Start have a mask mandate?

Becerra:

We provide a mask mandate a requirement for jurisdictions that which to receive money to provide particular services.

Kiley:

So, Head Start did have a mask mandate for kids, yes?

Becerra:

We had a mask mandate for jurisdictions -excuse me- for agencies that wish to get federal dollars to provide services.

Kiley:

So, that’s a ‘yes.’

Becerra:

That’s not a ‘yes’ to your question.

Kiley:

So, can you point to any benefit, any public health benefit from that policy, whether it was recommended, or enforced, or forced, of requiring young children to wear masks?

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Becerra:

Did families benefit from the policy of using all protection, all precautions to avoid contracting COVID? Yes.

Kiley:

No, I’m not asking you to rephrase my question as some abstract question that you’d rather answer. I’m asking that you, as the person who is the Secretary of Health and Human Services -right now- can you point to any evidence that there was a public health benefit to forcing young children to wear masks?

Becerra:

Well, the fact that today we are not losing lives the way we lost them when we first got into this pandemic is a clear sign…

Kiley:

And you think that’s because we forced two-year-olds to wear masks?

Becerra:

That’s your interpretation. What I’m saying to you is that using good policies that give us the precautions that keep our families from contacting COVID are helping save lives.

Kiley:

I want to quote to you from an article from NPR in January of 2022. It says the United States is an outlier in recommending masks from the age of two years old. The WHO doesn’t rec masks for children under age five, while the European equivalent of the CDC doesn’t recommend them for children under age 12. In retrospect, was it a mistake for the United States to defy the international norm on child masking?

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Becerra:

The United States had been working closely with our international partners, and we have done more than any other country to try to help.. our country… our partner countries.

Kiley:

But that’s not what I asked you. I asked you, was it a mistake to defy the international norm on the issue of child masking?

Becerra:

We continue to use all the best practices when it comes to making sure people take the precautions they need to be safe.

Kiley:

Is there a reason you aren’t answering my question, Mr Secretary?

Becerra:

I’m.. I’m answering the question the best I can because you keep phrasing questions that are already geared to get a particular answer.

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