Letter – Optional masking plan is reckless

Published 1:08 pm Wednesday, August 4, 2021

To the Editor:

What is Cumberland County Public Schools thinking? Optional masks in school?

Currently we are seeing alarming trends in COVID transmission and subsequent illness and hospitalization nationwide. We know that the delta strain is very aggressive and highly transmissible and seems to be affecting the younger population (under 50). This is obviously bad news for school communities full of young educators and classrooms of children.

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At least 168 students and three teachers are quarantined in Arkansas after exposure and positive cases during the first week of school, which surely will go up with time and be seen in other locations around the country (CNN 8/2/21). It is only a matter of time before this uptick reaches our small corner of central Virginia. Despite that, people are choosing to go maskless in public and are not getting vaccinated against this deadly disease, putting countless innocent individuals at risk.

Even if the virus does not kill someone outright, we know that many who survive will suffer lifelong medical issues, many debilitating and life shortening. Furthermore, we know that pediatric cases are on the rise, coinciding with the prevalence of the delta variant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) both strongly recommend masks be worn in schools this fall. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) both announced their support of mandatory masks in elementary schools (at least until a vaccine is available for those students) as well as masks for those who are not vaccinated (due to choice or age) in the middle and high schools. Also worth noting is their recommendation to require masks when vaccination rates are low, which is certainly the case here in Cumberland (38.2% fully vaccinated as of 8/2/21).

To make it personal, our son has cystic fibrosis. While he is generally a healthy child, he is at greater risk of complications following a respiratory illness. Surely he is not the only child in the district with respiratory or immunocompromising conditions. We must also be mindful of caregivers and others who live with and support our students, many of whom suffer from a myriad of complications and diseases that also put them at high risk. As a community we need to pull together and focus on inclusion and accessibility rather than force those members who have health issues to find other options for their own safety. I do not believe that making masks compulsory on school grounds is a lot to ask in order to be inclusive instead of exclusionary.

I was shocked when a decision on mask wearing was announced last week. It is not based on fact and science but perhaps it is a decision of convenience, avoiding conversations about incorrectly politicized public health recommendations. It is reckless and irresponsible to allow full classrooms of likely maskless children back into school buildings with no vaccine approved for them.

Meghan F. M. DuFrain