Some states, rather notoriously at this point, are prohibiting school districts from mandating that students and staff wear masks in classrooms and school buildings. Some are even threatening to withhold funding from districts that insist on requiring masks inside buildings. Aside from being contrary to the U.S. tradition of local control of schools, it is contrary to science and misguided because it puts at risk the health of children who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
We've seen how the failure of many people to get the jab in some of these states has led to rising hospitalizations and deaths. We are lucky here because our vaccination rates are high. Massachusetts ranks second in the nation for persons receiving at least one dose per capita, and Barnstable County, at 70 percent, is first in the state for percentage of individuals vaccinated, according to the state's weekly COVID-19 vaccination report.
But risk of exposure to COVID-19 and the more transmissible Delta variant remains. As seen with the Provincetown cluster, vaccinations don't keep people from getting the virus although it minimizes symptoms and virtually eliminates hospitalizations or deaths. Elementary and most middle school children are at greater risk simply because they can't get vaccinated. That's why the insistence of many that kids not be required to wear masks in school has us scratching our heads.
Masks work. If they didn't, why would medical practitioners have been using them in operating rooms and other places where infection control is important – for decades? It makes sense for students and staff to wear them inside school buildings. In the best of all possible worlds, this would be a no-brainer. But as comments made at last week's Monomoy School Committee meeting show, there are plenty of people who insist on being selfish and not using their brains. Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter's reopening plan, which recommends that students and staff in all schools be required to wear masks indoors when classes resume in September, makes eminent sense and it should be wholeheartedly endorsed by the school committee.
The Monomoy schools did an excellent job keeping students and staff safe in the last school year, and Carpenter's plan would continue that, ensuring in-person learning whenever possible. “Test and Stay” protocols would keep a close tab on cases, allowing those who were in close contact with a positive person to stay in class as long as daily tests are negative. If metrics allow, the mask mandate could be lifted eventually. Frankly, Carpenter's plan is better than the state's, which only recommends mask for kids in kindergarten through grade 6 and for all unvaccinated students.
We're tempted to rebut some of the more extreme comments made at the school committee meeting and Monday's forum on the reopening plan, but that would mean sinking into a miasma of conspiracy theories and lunacy. This is a case, like the mask mandates in place during the height of the pandemic, of the greater good being served by some minor sacrifices. Kids got used to wearing masks in school last year. Sure it's uncomfortable, but it won't hurt them, whereas not wearing masks has the potentially of hurting many – or worse.