A “study” finding that COVID mitigation efforts in schools, including forced masking, were highly effective in stopping disease spread — and cited by the CDC and most states as the scientific basis for school mask mandates — was authored by LA County bureaucrats, including the daughter of the county’s Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
Although study authors are required to disclose any conflicts of interest — and Ferrer is given a shout-out in the acknowledgements — the study states that no conflicts of interest were disclosed.
Like her mother, Kaitlin Barnes is not a medical doctor. Barnes does not even have a scientific background or a Ph.D. in any field. Her professional background is a combination of her parents’ professions; Kenneth Barnes has had a long career in urban planning and community organizing. From an archived copy of Kaitlin’s website, which has been scrubbed (emphasis added):
Born and raised in Jamaica Plain, a diverse and vibrant neighborhood of Boston, she attended the Boston Public Schools and graduated from Boston Latin School in 2004. Receiving a B.A. with a major in Metropolitan Studies and a minor in Politics from New York University (2008), her research focused on urban planning and policy, immigration, race and racism, and health equity. Kaitlin went on to earn an M.A. in Communication Management from Emerson College in 2012, focusing on stakeholder management, public diplomacy, place branding, and health communication. She recently completed an M.B.A. at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business with a dual concentration in strategy & innovation and health sector management.
Barnes was hired by the Los Angeles County Office of Education in late 2020 as a “temporary project manager” in the Public Relations and Communications department. Prior to moving to Los Angeles, Kaitlin worked at Boston University as the International Corporate Outreach Manager for Metropolitan College’s International division, and before that essentially as a communications director/community liaison for both Berklee College of Music and Emerson College, both in Boston. She also did comms on a few political campaigns for friends of Barbara Ferrer (such as former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino).
Despite the fact that she has no prior experience in conducting any public health research, she got right to work on the study, which was a joint effort between LACOE and Ferrer’s department.
The study, published in August 2021, concluded that students who went to school during the winter of 2020-21 tested positive for COVID at a much lower rate than their peers who did not attend LA County schools. The authors also concluded that, therefore, the protocols in place in LA County were responsible for this.
A rash of stories (LA Times, WebMD, The Guardian, CNN, US News & World Report) published around the time this study was released follow the same pattern: they lead with the story of a teacher who allegedly infected 26 people by reading to her students without wearing a mask, taking care to emphasize that the teacher was one of only two unvaccinated teachers in the school. Then the stories shift: but, hey, look at this! A new study out of LA County shows that mandatory masking in schools works! CDC Director Rochelle Walensky even mentioned it in a press briefing!
Not a mention of the massive conflict of interest in any of those pieces, and only passing references to the study’s flaws.
Walensky’s comments during the August 27, 2021 White House press briefing, slamming those who did not want to comply with mask “recommendations,” featured this study, which was cited as scientific evidence that these protocols must be followed.
She said, in part:
We also have clear scientifically-backed guidance that offers a framework for schools to open and remain open for a safe and healthy learning environment in this unprecedented academic year ahead.
Adding to this body of evidence, two studies will be published in today’s MMWR that demonstrate the importance of consistent and correct use of these mitigation strategies, especially vaccination and universal masking.
In their first report looking at COVID cases in Los Angeles County, we saw the power of layered prevention. School-associated cases remained lower than cases in the community because of prevention efforts.
In schools with safety protocols in place, case rates in children and adolescents were about three and a half times lower during the winter peak compared to rates in the community.
Even when communities were experiencing high levels of COVID transmission, in the LA County study, layered prevention measures in schools provided a shield of pretension [sic], helped to keep COVID out of school, and reduced the spread when cases did occur.
As it turns out, a position as a temporary project manager (likely paid for with CARES Act funds) pays well. Barnes was paid over $130,000 in 2021.
That department is headed by a woman who is very fond of Ferrer, Elizabeth Graswich. Presumably Barnes had to disclose on her employment application that her mother was also a county employee, and presumably Graswich knew this.
It’s not a secret within LA County employee circles that Barnes is Ferrer’s daughter. When Ferrer was presented with the Woman of the Year award in May 2022, she tearfully (and without a mask) thanked her daughter for being there for her during the stress of the pandemic.
Ferrer’s words after thanking her family underscore what we at RedState and other journalists such as Katy Grimes at California Globe, Bill Melugin at Fox, and John Phillips of KABC Radio have been saying since the early days of the pandemic.