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Follow the science, listen to the experts when it comes to masks

By Staff | Aug 25, 2021

To the editor:

An open letter to the School Board of Lee County:

The League of Women Voters of Lee County Florida requests that the Lee County School Board take mitigation measures to protect all students and staff from the spread of COVID and to strengthen its mask policy by requiring a documented medical reason for an opt out.

Face coverings are an essential mitigation measure. Allowing parents or guardians to opt their child out of wearing a face covering or mask increases the risks for all students and staff. The plan to make masks optional goes against the guidance of both the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics. It also ignores the science on COVID transmission in kids and on the effectiveness of masks and fails to give our youngest children–who are not yet vaccine eligible but will be soon–a chance to evade infection after over a year of sacrifice. All available evidence indicates that SARS-CoV-2 will spread rapidly in schools without mitigation efforts–including universal masking–firmly in place. The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree; both agencies have released guidance indicating that schools should mandate masks for students, staff, and visitors. As local leaders, you should listen to them.

Though infections in our state declined in the late spring and early summer as vaccination rates increased, new variants like Delta pose a serious threat. The Delta variant is much more transmissible than previous variants, and data from our local area reflect that troubling reality. COVID infections in Lee County continue to increase to all time highs and our hospitals are beyond capacity. In addition, the age distribution of new infections and hospitalizations has also shifted downward, with young children representing a greater proportion of infections and hospitalizations than in previous months. This will only get worse if kids return to school without required masking and other mitigation strategies in place.

The science on COVID and children is clear: children can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, can get sick with and die of COVID-19, and can spread the virus to others. As of the first week of July 2021, more than 200,000 children in the U.S. had been hospitalized and nearly 400 children had died from COVID. A disproportionate number of these children who experienced severe illness or death were young people of color, some whose social and economic vulnerabilities put them at especially high risk. While children are less likely than adults to experience severe illness or death, the long term consequences of COVID infection on neurological, lung, metabolic, and cardiovascular function are still unknown. Recent studies estimate that anywhere from 10-45 percent of children under 12 who are infected with SARS-CoV-2 experience “long haul” symptoms that last more than five weeks after diagnosis even if they experience mild acute infection. This is all to say, children have not been and will not be spared in this pandemic. Importantly, children can also transmit COVID to their unvaccinated, immunocompromised, and otherwise vulnerable family members and friends, which further contributes to community spread and the emergence of new variants of the virus and puts the “end” of this pandemic further out of reach.

Families are depending on you to follow the science and protect the health and safety of our children and community. Our children deserve to go to school without worrying about getting sick and spreading the virus to their immunocompromised, unvaccinated, or otherwise vulnerable family members, friends, and neighbors. We shouldn’t ask our young children and their parents to choose between going to school and staying healthy and safe. Young kids will be eligible for vaccines within the next few months. We should give them the opportunity to be vaccinated before asking them to enter our schools and classrooms unprotected. Science supports masks in schools. Wearing masks is a small sacrifice to make in order to ensure that our kids can remain safe while going to school, which we know is important for their intellectual, social, and emotional development.

We are asking you to listen to the experts, follow the science, and require masks for all. We are happy to respond to any questions that you may have.

Sarah McDonald,

President League of Women Voters

of Lee County

Denise John, Director – Education,

League of Women Voters of Lee County