Why We Shouldn’t Debate About Whether To ‘Mask Up’ at School

My granddaughter just began kindergarten in Florida. It is a new experience for her and her parents, as well. For the past few years, she has been enrolled in what she and her parents call, ‘Bubble school’- a pre-school program. The moniker itself suggests that there is a type of safety embedded in that environment.

Now, she is in kindergarten, at a public school and is no longer in that bubble. The governor of that state has refused to mandate the wearing of masks in public for its citizen residents. Sure we can politicize health, but isn’t it more science and safety than politics? Will politics prevent us from exposure to disease and deadly viruses? Will our politicians keep us safe and are willing to be held personally responsible? The logical answer is ‘no’, but still people have been protesting against the wearing of masks for ‘personal freedoms’.  Is it fair to place our children’s lives in the middle of this argument?

One of a parent’s most dreaded situation is to have a child, son or daughter, become fatally ill and precede them in death. Actually, no matter the cause, no parent wants their child to die prematurely. Who wants to potentially have to bury a child?

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As parents, we want the best for our children. Before birth, we begin to protect our children. We understand that every choice that we make, what we eat, how often we exercise, and the amount of exposure to stress are all to be carefully monitored. We are already placing our child’s well-being before ourselves, even when that means that we have to limit or adjust our own adult activities and ‘personal freedoms’.

The decisions we make are not politically-motivated or politically- influenced. It is our responsibility to protect our children and put their needs ahead of anything else. When it comes to health-related issues, we are even more mindful. If there is a remote possibility that your child may catch a cold from someone else, we keep a safe distance between them and anyone who has been merely in the vicinity of someone with a cough or runny nose. We even wince at a sneeze.

We take prenatal vitamins prescribed by our medical provider, because it is said to benefit us and our unborn baby. Although we haven’t seen targeted scientific data that illustrates the true benefits of taking vitamin supplements, there is no fight to take them. When there is the slightest possibility that not taking prenatal supplements can place that child at risk for some preventable condition, we take them. In fact, if we miss a day, we will double the daily dosage to be on the safe side. We will err on the side of caution.

Here we are in the midst of a pandemic, with variants to be concerned about. In the beginning of the pandemic, without putting up a fight, after being informed about this deadly virus, we quarantined. We may have gotten stir-crazy during that time, but for added safety and to limit risk, we sheltered in place and stayed home. For a while, we weren’t allowed to visit loved ones in hospitals, nursing homes or the home of a senior family member. We took to videochats and drive-bys, but we stayed away. There was no fight-just remorse and grief. It was wise decision-making.

People, parents too, now are protesting, and nearly rioting against having their young children wearing masks at school. Children! Young children! Children’s education,  safety and well-being are supposed to trump[no pun intended] politics and political views, even personal freedoms. We listen to the science. It is apolitical.

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COVID-19 is highly communicable and amazingly adaptable. Adults can, will and do take their chances by going out in public spaces mask-less. It isn’t just about the adults, though. Sure, you have personal freedoms, but that is not being encroached upon. Is it not selfish to exist in a society without concern for the safety of others? If someone has a cold, and are near you, don’t we expect the common sense that when they cough or sneeze, that they cover their mouth? With COVID-19, it is not always immediately recognizable, and certainly not from across a room, a crowded one. Also,not everyone is immediately aware of their infection status. Do we take the chance? Or maybe in the recesses of our most logical selves, we see that wearing a mask, hand washing and social distancing will minimize risk of transmission? Follow the science.

The reality is that I would rather take chances with my child being safe than being exposed to a potentially fatal virus, when it could be preventable. We took care of ourselves and the elderly. Why would we hesitate to take care of the absolutely most vulnerable and precious people on this planet–our children?

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Haven’t we seen enough death, and heard enough horror stories about this coronavirus to be decisive proponents of total ‘masking up’ of our children? A school setting is yet a public space and one that is somewhat contained. Children enter the classroom from all different home environments, with varied histories and experiences with the virus. They have family members who have succumbed to the virus. They are at different risk levels for being infected and political beliefs have nothing to do with it. It is about science, empirical evidence. Why teach science in school if we don’t expect our children to be data-driven or believe in its validity!

I wonder what would a child say if the question is posed to them about their own safety or your safety. What would your child say to you if you told him or her that there is a possibility that they could be infected or infect someone else, their best friend or a stranger, by not taking safety precautions themselves. The point of masking up at school is an issue of life and death, safety or risk.

Adults can make the decisions about their own safety, based on political beliefs or personal freedoms at will, but do we put our children’s lives in the middle of the debate? Include them, if they so choose when they become of age and old enough to know the risks and when they understand how to use the information learned in school about science.

Is the central issue about personal freedoms or the politics of it all? Or is it about the old adage,”better safe than sorry”? Do we believe in the science and even if there is the most remote possibility that your child can become infected by this virus, shouldn’t that be sufficient in making the determination to mask up at school? And that you, too, have a moral responsibility to do likewise, as a role model to your children?

The decision to wear masks and other PPE is one of keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe. Of course it may not be the most comfortable to wear over the face, but it is one of the precautions we can take to keep our children, ourselves and others safe. What’s more important, the health and safety of our children and ourselves or our personal or political freedoms? The answers should be clear.

An update to this post features a notable quote from President Joe Biden, on this very subject:

 

“Unfortunately, as we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures — that is, children wearing masks in school — into political disputes for their own political gain.  Some are even trying to take power away from local educators by banning masks in school.  They’re setting a dangerous tone….  This isn’t about politics.  It’s about keeping our children safe.  This is about taking on the virus together, united.  I’ve made it clear that I will stand with those who are trying to do the right thing….  [T]hat’s why, today, I am directing the Secretary of Education — an educator himself — to take additional steps to protect our children.  This includes using all of his oversight authorities and legal actions, if appropriate, against governors [and other officials] who are trying to block and intimidate local school officials and educators….  Let’s follow the educators and the scientists who know a lot more about how to teach our children and keep them safe than any politician.  This Administration is always going to take the side of our children.”

— President Joseph Biden (8/18/21), from remarks on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic

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