Push back in the anti-masking war
Much can be said about the campaign to stop school districts from imposing masks on students and staff.
It might be noted that the subset of Republican governors who have banned mask mandates in their states are hypocrites, each embracing the party’s strong advocacy for local control, especially local control of education – except apparently when ‘it’s about wearing masks. I can’t trust these local school boards who dare to put safety first.
It could be noted that anti-masking parents who loudly defend their “freedom” and their right to make “personal choices” do not understand our laws and our Constitution. Freedom and personal choice are not unlimited; they entail responsibility. When your “freedom” not to wear a mask increases another person’s chances of contracting a potentially debilitating or fatal illness, you deny them a constitutionally guaranteed right to life, liberty, and prosecution. happiness. Freedom has limits. No one has the “freedom” to drive while intoxicated.
A pediatric nurse attending a recent stormy Tampa school board meeting, in which parents wearing “Freedom vs. Fear” t-shirts shouted at the masks of “tyranny” and “oppression” called the “sincere ignorance pandemic” scene. Lapidary and perfect.
But the most mind-boggling aspect of this campaign is how governors and parents seem willing to sacrifice children, theirs and ours, on the altar of their misguided cultural warfare.
This is not hyperbole.
Schools without masks will lead children to contract COVID-19. Most will be fine. Some will die. Some will be hospitalized. Some will suffer from long-haul COVID. Some will take the virus home. Many will see their studies interrupted again. All of this is already happening with the more dangerous delta variant. And no amount of passionate rants or bullying from school boards or irrational government edicts changes these facts.
The United States is setting records for new pediatric COVID cases, led by Texas and Florida, whose governors have banned mask warrants in schools. Many hospitals lack pediatric intensive care beds; Dallas didn’t have one available last week. Florida recorded nearly 32,000 new cases among those 19 and under last week; two children under 16 died. Much of this came before the schools opened. Now that they have resumed, more than 10,000 students in Hillsborough County in Tampa are either in quarantine or in isolation due to COVID.
Fortunately, governors are suffering a serious setback and anti-masking parents remain a minority.
In Texas, eight counties and nearly 60 school districts – including the state’s five largest – ignored or challenged Governor Greg Abbott’s order and set mask requirements; the district of Paris has ingeniously integrated masks into the dress code of the district. In Florida, more than a million students – more than a third of the state’s enrollment – live in districts that have defied Ron DeSantis’ anti-mask mandate, forcing the governor to drop his threat to suspend funding. Other GOP governors (Ohio, Indiana, et al.) Endorse or encourage school mask mandates in their states.
Abbott and DeSantis still do not seem to understand their obligation to protect public health during a pandemic or at all times. But people do: Almost 70% of Americans in last week’s Axios / Ipsos poll support mask mandates in schools.
The fight may soon pick up steam in New York, with new governor Kathy Hochul backing school masking. All but one of Long Island’s 24 school districts that announced plans Friday have made masks mandatory, according to Newsday.
Some anti-mask parents say kids don’t like masks. But children learn from their parents. Indignation is channeled. The same is true of understanding and acceptance. Teachers will tell you that in their students they have seen a lot more of them.
Our culture wars are troubling. But a culture war that puts children’s lives in danger must end.
Columnist Michael Dobie’s opinions are his.