Many of us were thinking the turmoil from last year’s pandemic was behind us. Unfortunately, the delta variant has reminded many that we are far from done with the pandemic. Infection numbers have been climbing weekly as the phrase “Covid Hot Spot” has once again become a part of the daily news reports. With schools getting ready for the beginning of the 2021 school year, once again administrators may have to consider the purchase of custom masks for students along with other supplies needed for the upcoming school year.
Children wearing face masks has been a political talking point most of the pandemic, and it is once again making headlines. Recently, the CDC and the American Pediatric Association came out to recommend that school staff and students over the age of 2 years old wear face masks in light of the recent surge associated with the Delta variant. Usually, recommendations from these organizations would be followed without hesitation from most schools and businesses like day cares. But with the politicization of the Pandemic, some states governors have decided to use the pandemic for political grandstanding and appeasement of the former U.S. president.
Even though the rate of U.S. Covid infections jumped %145 in the latter half of July 2021, five Republican state governors in Texas, Florida, Arizona, Nebraska, and Iowa have signed orders prohibiting mask mandates by local government officials and schools. They indicate they are taking this stand in defense of personal freedom over protecting the health of residents of their respective states.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has threatened to cut funding to any school districts that require face coverings. This forced the second-largest school district in Florida to withdraw a face mask mandate that had been announced in late July.
While there is plenty of support for prohibiting face mask mandates by the residents of these states, many who also are anti-vaccine advocates, there are plenty of parents and teachers who are fearful of what may happen with the upcoming school year. The fear is real for parents and teachers as the Delta variant spreads like wildfire through the unvaccinated, and most children being too young for the vaccine. Parents are also losing the option for remote learning as funding has dried up in many districts.
While there are states that will resist CDC face mask recommendations, there are still numerous states that will follow the recommendations and require students to wear protective face masks. Louisiana, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, and Washington have announced that K-12 students will be required to wear protective face masks. California had originally declared that they would require protective face coverings for students, but reversed the decision and will let the individual school districts decide for themselves. The route California is taking is the most common approach being taken by most states. Even in states where governors signed the anti-mask orders, the larger school districts have moved to require students to wear face masks.
On top of the political obstacles faced by school districts, supplying face masks for thousands of students returning to school presents a logistical nightmare. While some districts will require parents to supply face masks for their children, most schools will order customized face masks for their students. This is not as easy as it sounds, while some companies accept purchase orders from school children, most vendors selling custom face masks online require payment upfront., With the large numbers that school districts will be needing, this can be a difficult task when it comes to arranging payment.
Schools will not be the only organizations faced with providing a protective face mask for children. Daycare, youth sports organizations, and youth groups/clubs will also need to consider options for providing protection to the children and staff involved. Some non-profit organizations have seen an opportunity to raise funds for their groups and turned to provide customized face masks into a fundraising opportunity.
Numerous studies have highlighted the importance of students being in class. While remote learning was an effective measure early in the pandemic. Students need to be in school, and if wearing protective face masks will allow this and add some protection against the Delta and any future variants, it seems worthwhile.
While it seems that the pandemic has been one long nightmare and normalcy may never return for our communities and families. There have been long strides made in the fight against Covid19, and children 12 and over can be vaccinated. Testing has also begun on younger children and the use of vaccines. Progress is being made and the eventual end to the pandemic is getting closer, but unfortunately, the end may be delayed by vaccine misinformation, and political grandstanding. School children and face masks will remain a hot issue for the foreseeable future.