How Many Kids Have To Get Sick Before We Protect Them With Mask Mandates?

by Valerie Williams
FG Trade/Getty

Another Texas school enacts a mask mandate in defiance of Governor Greg Abbott’s order and just how many kids will have to get sick before states like Texas reverse course?

We’re about a month into the school year in some U.S. states and a clear picture is beginning to emerge — schools that don’t have a mask mandate are shutting down left and right. Texas specifically has been in the news (along with its good buddy Florida) for the governor’s ban on school mask mandates and one by one, districts in the state have chosen to defy Greg Abbott’s executive order — because how many kids have to get sick before states wake up and allow schools to mandate masks?

Central Texas’ Lockhart Independent School District started requiring masks this week after nearly 800 students ended up in quarantine because of COVID-19 spread. The district has 204 active cases according to Superintendent Mark Estrada with the majority of those cases being students. The mandate comes after a 5-2 vote by the school board in favor of requiring masks for students, staff, parents, and visitors. Estrada detailed struggles the district has endured this school year including a substitute teacher shortage, the closure of four classes and a student program due to having 20% or more students diagnosed with COVID-19, and a shortage of bus drivers.

In other words, Abbott can insist all he wants that schools can’t mandate masks but without them, it looks like schools might not be able to stay open this year.

My children attend school in a state that won’t allow mask mandates and one is already home for virtual learning after barely a week of in-person class and judging by our latest dashboard update, the other will soon be joining them. Is this all that “freedom” the anti-mask crowd insists we enjoy by skipping masks? Because my kids certainly don’t feel “free” while spending weeks at a time stuck in their bedroom alone instead of safely in their classrooms, ready to learn.

At this point, it’s grim trying to imagine what will have to happen for schools that stubbornly refuse to mandate masks to change course. How many kids will have to get sick? How many will have to be hospitalized? How many teachers will have to die? We’ve already seen several of those stories since the start of the school year and — it bears repeating — the school year has barely started.

Currently, schools in Texas that are defying the governor’s order can continue to mandate masks until litigation is resolved. Maybe Texas and other states with similar bans will start to wake up before it’s too late.