By Kendal Tietz
The Los Angeles Times’ editorial board penned an opinion piece claiming “schools are doing fine with masks” and arguing “dropping mandates now would be premature,” as blue states across the U.S. abandon mask mandates.
“It’s a relief to watch Omicron numbers fall off,” the editorial said. “California is lifting its indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people Wednesday, but not for schools — at least, not yet.”
California state officials plan to reassess masks in schools on Feb. 28, according to a Monday statement from Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of Health and Human Services.
“Attending school carries a higher risk of transmission than a stroll through the supermarket,” the editorial board claimed. “Students and teachers are close together for hours each weekday. And though children are generally less likely to get seriously ill if infected, they can still pass infections picked up at school to vulnerable people at home and in their communities.”
Doctors have argued that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has misinterpreted data guiding them on schools reopening, including one study led by Dr. Tracy Beth Høeg that found the risk of COVID-19 transmission is low in school settings.
The CDC’s “guidance does not take into account the data we have regarding little disease transmission in schools” calling it “an example of fears influencing and resulting in misinterpretation of science and harmful policy,” according to a March 2021 op-ed in USA Today.
In July 2021, the CDC updated its guidance to recommend all students in grades K-12 wear masks despite full vaccination. The CDC previously recommendedindoor masking only for students who weren’t fully vaccinated.
The “extremely low” vaccination rate among elementary school children in California, which sits right below 28%, means a “no masks for vaccinated students” policy would not be effective, according to the LA Times editorial board.
“Some parents won’t feel safe sending their kids to mask-free classrooms, and many depend on schools not just for academics but for child care and nutritious meals,” the editorial said. “If masking keeps schools open, it certainly should be continued.”
Teachers have to be a “part of the discussion” because “many feel strongly about preventing breakthrough infections” and the “pandemic has been hard on teachers,” prompting many to leave the profession, the editorial said.
“The state is right to wait until the downward case trend becomes more of a certainty before lifting the school mandate,” the editorial said. “In the meantime, Ghaly needs to spell out for the public what has to happen in the next two weeks before the rule is changed. (Individual counties and school districts could continue requiring masks, even if the state lifts its mandate.”
The board posed questions for public health officials to consider, including “How low do the COVID-19 case rates have to go, and among which groups?” and “Will lifting the mandate require an uptick in vaccination rates for children?”
“We would love to see the students’ uncovered faces and allow them to witness the smiles of their classmates and teachers once again,” the editorial concluded. “But it would be a serious misstep if the state acted prematurely and put the education of kids and the well-being of schools and communities at risk.”
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