By State Rep. Rich Collins
Why must our children continue to be hurt by our state’s misdirected COVID-19 policies?
As students prepare to head back to the classroom, our state will be forcing them to return wearing face masks. Governor John Carney on Tuesday (8/10) announced that all kindergarten through 12th grade students, in both private and public schools, must wear face coverings indoors as of Monday, August 16 – regardless of vaccination status. I believe this intrusive act usurps local control and will potentially harm children, hobbling their ability to academically rebound after an 18-month forced exile from a traditional learning environment.
Children are at little risk from suffering any severe consequences from COVID-19. This is not a cavalier overstatement. It is a fact. Of the 1,835 instances where deaths in Delaware could be connected to COVID-19, only one involved a school-aged child (age 5 through 17).
The disease is also not a serious health threat to teachers and other school staff, who were among the first eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccines. And, as Gov. Carney noted at his press briefing last Thursday, anyone can currently walk into a local pharmacy and receive a free vaccination. In fact, most adults have already done so. State health officials report that as of Monday, August 9, 73.7% of Delaware adults, and 71.6% of those 12 and older, have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
According to data from the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, the people most vulnerable to severe COVID-19 complications are among the best protected from it. About 97% of Delaware’s fatalities related to the coronavirus have occurred among those age 50 and above. More than 93% of senior citizens (65+) have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 86% are fully vaccinated. Among those people ages 50 through 64, 65% have been fully vaccinated and nearly 73% are partially inoculated. These percentages are actually a little higher than reported because the state data does not include Delawareans who were inoculated in other states.
The COVID-19 vaccines are reportedly effectual against the Delta variant – the most common version of the virus being locally transmitted. While believed to be more contagious and transmittable than the original strain, a recent post from Yale Medicine indicates there is no scientific consensus that this variant is any more dangerous than the original form. In fact, while case rates have risen somewhat over the last two months, hospitalizations remain comparatively low and fatalities have been flat.
If the vaccines are as effective as advertised; if all school personnel and students (age 12 and over) have had ample opportunity to get inoculated; if unvaccinated minors face little risk from serious COVID-19 health impacts; why is the state again imposing its will on citizens by requiring school masking?
Consider that this is not just a simple matter of inconvenience. There are serious implications that could arise from forcing children to wear face masks in the classroom.
While pediatricians claim children can wear masks without consequences, many parents tell a different story. Some constituents say their children have difficulty breathing while using the devices, resulting in headaches and difficulty concentrating. Of course, these are anecdotal accounts but shouldn’t the experiences of children and their parents be considered? Under the announced universal mask mandate these concerns have received no accommodation.
There is also a real possibility that children could inadvertently contaminate their face masks through careless handling, repeatedly inhaling bacteria and other things worse than anything they would be exposed to without it.
And there is the impact on learning – a process that has already been drastically damaged by the state’s COVID-19 disruption.
As Seth Pollak, head of the Child Emotion Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, noted in a recently published column: “There are a lot of things that are really important for human communication. And human faces are definitely one of the most important of them.”
It is difficult enough for teachers to teach, and students to learn, without handicapping the process by further degrading interaction between the two.
Throughout the pandemic, the state has continued to lurch from one bad decision to another, often using questionable suppositions to support its choices. Small businesses were forced to close, while big box corporate retailers remained open. Hospitals were coerced to suspend life-saving screening, testing and other procedures to keep beds open for COVID patients that never arrived. Distance learning protocols were employed where teachers could not track student participation or even attendance. With this track record, why should we continue to have faith in executive branch decision-makers?
Face-masking and vaccination policies in public schools should be left to locally elected school officials and the parents to which they are accountable – not dictated by state officials.