Parents, doctors testify against Walz’s ‘dangerous’ mask mandate for youth sports

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee called the hearing in response to reports of students collapsing during games and seeking emergency medical treatment. 

Screenshots from videos released by Let Them Play MN of students who collapsed during recent games.

A Senate committee heard from parents and doctors Wednesday about the safety risks of Gov. Tim Walz’s mask mandate for youth sports.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee called the hearing in response to reports of students collapsing during games and seeking emergency medical treatment.

“Part of the reason we’re having this hearing is because people believe they aren’t being heard,” said Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, chair of the committee.

“Some of our youth activities have been really strictly adhering to masking guidelines because they’re afraid of being tattled on, that there would be some retribution. That doesn’t seem like a healthy place for citizens to relate to their government,” she added.

Minnesota Department of Health Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff was tasked with defending the mandate before the committee and said the governor’s decision was based on the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“We have had many outbreaks in sports and we’re starting to see that increase again,” Huff said. He called it a “common misperception” that children with asthma suffer from increased asthma attacks when wearing masks, citing a study from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Huff also revealed that MDH is aware of and tracking reports of injuries due to obstructed vision caused by face masks. He said the department has “three credible reports” of injuries associated with mask wearing, including students with concussions.

In response to the complaints, Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, said it is “questionable” that “kids are getting to play sports at all” if it can’t be done safely.

“If people don’t think it’s safe to play these sports with masks, then perhaps we shouldn’t be doing these sports,” she said.

Dawn Gillman, executive director of Let Them Play MN, testified at the hearing about her group’s efforts to overturn the mandate.

Almost immediately after the mandate took effect, her organization began receiving videos of, and emails about, students getting injured or collapsing during practices and games, she said.

Her group released four of those videos on Wednesday, and the parents of the impacted athletes testified at the hearing.

“The doctor actually did tell us it does look like he became overheated from having restricted breathing in his cloth mask because of aggressive play and he passed out,” said Jennifer McKinney, the parent of a 14-year-old who lost consciousness during a basketball game Friday night — captured on video in the third clip released by Let Them Play.

Another parent, Corey Peterson, was emotional while discussing the concussion his 14-year-old son suffered “as a result of this mask mandate.”

“They can’t see so they look further down. When you’re playing hockey, you’ve got to look up the ice so you can see what’s coming at you.  We’ve been training them for years to keep their heads up so they don’t end up paralyzed. I’m thankful this is a concussion but nobody wants to say anything either because they don’t want hockey shut down or sports shut down,” he said.

Dr. Andrew Arthur, a surgeon who treats orthopedic sports injuries, was one of three doctors who testified at the meeting. Only one of the doctors, Dr. Sheldon Berkowitz of the American Academy of Pediatrics, was in favor of the mandate.

Arthur published an article in the Star Tribune in early January warning that mask mandates for youth sports, and sporting events in general, “may actually cause more harm in the form of unintended injuries.”

Among other risks, Arthur pointed out that face masks prevent players from wearing tethered mouth guards, “whose usefulness at preventing dental injuries and concussions are well documented.”

“What I’ve seen in my own practice is that what I predicted from my Jan. 5 article has actually gone on to occur. I’ve seen numerous sports injuries in my own practice that I believe are related to face coverings,” Arthur said during Wednesday’s hearing.

In the last two weeks alone, Arthur said he’s treated a 13-year-old who broke his clavicle playing hockey, an 11-year-old who fractured his knee in gym class “because he couldn’t see what he was doing very well,” and a 15-year-old who “required open repair of the fracture of her kneecap” after falling during a basketball game.

“Now is it 100 percent clear that it’s the face mask that caused these injuries? No, but as an athlete and as somebody who follows young athletes, face coverings really have no place in sports. You can’t play a competitive sports match with a face covering in your way,” he added.

Dr. Maria Poirier, a hockey mom, agreed with Arthur, saying the masking requirement “adds substantial player-safety risk with minimal public health benefits.”

Let Them Play has already brought its concerns to court but a judge rejected the group’s request Monday for a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from enforcing the mandate. Gillman said the ruling, however, “does not mean we lose our case” and vowed to continue fighting.