Mayor Michael Hancock is doing the right thing to allow Denver’s public health order to expire today and to entrust adults with the choice to mask or unmask. The omicron wave is passing. Cases and positivity rates are in a nosedive.

But like other Denver parents, I continue to send my 5- and 3-year-old children to school wearing masks. This is unscientific, unfair to kids, and at this point, purely political.

Supporters of masking kids point to authorities like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which supports the masking of kids primarily out of a concern for keeping school outbreaks to a minimum and thus keeping schools open. Denver Department of Public Health Director Bob McDonald has pointed to the state’s guidelines on quarantining unmasked COVID exposures as reason for continued masking — to keep more kids at school.

Keeping kids in school for in-person learning is critical. But many U.S. states and other countries have managed to keep schools open without mandatory masking. And now other schools in Colorado, like Cherry Creek Schools and others governed by Tri-County Health, are making masks optional. These districts live under the same state rules for quarantining. Somehow they can make it work, why not Denver?

People of goodwill and sound reasoning will line up on either side of this debate, which has naturally become emotionally charged. We’re all concerned with the health and well-being of our kids and the greater Denver community.

But in this heated debate, it’s important to remember that the burden of proof is on the pro-mask side. Mask-skeptical parents like me don’t have to prove that masking is harmful (although this is self-evident in the firsthand experiences of many families).

To support this intervention, pro-maskers must have darned good evidence, and they simply don’t: Studies that have attempted to measure the effectiveness of masks have not included children; have not adjusted for other factors (like vaccination rates, other mitigation measures etc.) to isolate for the effect of masks, or have found negligible benefit in universal masking in the school setting.

The stakes were different at the beginning of the pandemic when we knew so much less about COVID and when we had so few tools at our disposal for fighting it. Now we have more tools, like vaccines that are effective against severe illness and death, and treatments for those who do experience illness.

And we have more knowledge. We are learning more about the full implications of some COVID mitigation measures. For example, Johns Hopkins University has a new study showing that lockdowns did little to limit COVID deaths and instead “they have contributed to reducing economic activity, raising unemployment, reducing schooling, causing political unrest, contributing to domestic violence, and undermining liberal democracy,” according to authors.

Yet, we followed stay-at-home orders because we didn’t know then what we know now. Similarly, we have learned a lot about masks. We have learned that cloth masks — which comply with the requirements in Denver’s schools and childcare centers — are not effective.

Worse than ineffective, masks on kids may be harmful. While the AAP and other pro-maskers will insist that there is no evidence of any harm (yet), we should keep in mind that this evidence is hard to collect. Harms to the mental, social, and emotional health of children are harder to see and measure, but this doesn’t make them less important.

Parents are right to be concerned about the impact of long-term universal masking on their kids’ health and development.

Indeed, this risk-benefit analysis is why other public health authorities, like the World Health Organization, have advised against masks for young children since early in the pandemic.

For medically vulnerable children and families, highly effective (read: non-cloth) masks or respirators may continue to offer valuable personal protection, in addition to COVID vaccines. But rules about masks should be made for the rule, not the exception. And as a rule, children are blessedly, relatively safe from the threat of severe disease caused by COVID, including omicron.

Mayor Hancock said this week that the City of Denver is moving to the “sustainable management” phase of the COVID pandemic. Naturally, parents like me want to know what this means for our kids. We want practical answers — not a politicized debate. But without a clear timeline and plan for making masks optional in schools, it seems that Denver will keep universal masking in place indefinitely. This would be wrong. Let kids unmask. If not now, when?