The CDC and WHO recommend wearing masks, and have for months. Numerous studies have made it clear that wearing masks prevents the spread of COVID-19. And yet the naysayers persist. With an impressive ability to shut down their frontal lobe when presented with research-based facts, they deny that masks are effective. They say idiotic things like “Wearing a mask is like having a pissing section in the swimming pool!” They whine about their “personal freedom.”
And God forbid their child don a mask to attend school. Who cares about the asthmatic teacher in her mid-60s as long as precious Kevin has the “freedom” to hack his COVID droplets all over her? Her death would be a small price to pay for Kevin’s freedom, because literally nothing is more sacred than our right to infect our fellow community members with a potentially deadly virus. Stay mad, liberal snowflakes!
But we have seen what happens when masks are not worn in schools. In Georgia, two different school districts had two different mask policies, and two very different outcomes. In Swainsboro Middle School in Emanuel County, masks were optional, and only about half of the children wore them. The receptionist reportedly wore hers only sporadically. Within days, she was out sick with COVID. Nine teachers ended up infected—four of whom shared a hallway at the school. One ended up on a ventilator. Over 100 students had to be quarantined due to either positive COVID tests or exposure to someone who tested positive, and the county wound up with one of the highest rates of school-age COVID cases in Georgia.
Meanwhile, in Cobb County, Georgia, the school district required all children to wear masks, even pre-kindergarteners, and trained its own contact tracers. In that district, no school-related transmissions of COVID-19 were reported in the first month.
In Georgia as a whole, the counties with school districts that mandated mask-wearing had fewer proportionate cases of infected kids. Districts that did not mandate masks had proportionately higher rates of infected kids.
It is clear that mask-wearing is effective. Early on in the pandemic, when scientists had not yet had time to study outcomes of various ways of managing spread, it was harder to definitively say what measures worked or didn’t work. But we now have ample evidence to show that mask wearing is one of the most effective measures to prevent spread of COVID-19.
In one instance in May, a hairdresser in Springfield, Missouri contracted COVID. During an interaction with another coworker in which neither of them wore a mask, the coworker was infected. Each of them wore a mask at work, and neither hairdresser infected any of their 139 clients nor any of their coworkers. Tellingly, though, the original hairdresser did infect four close contacts. The hairdresser who contracted COVID second did not infect her close contacts, though she was also alerted to being positive three days earlier into her infection.
So we know that although children are less likely to become seriously ill with COVID, they are capable of contracting it and transmitting it. And we know that masks work. Given these two bits of information, it is baffling that so many states and school districts continue to resist mandating the wearing of masks. How is it possible that this is still up for debate?
Ironically, many who are opposed to the idea of mandating masks focus less on the discomfort of wearing a mask or any science that they believe suggests that masks don’t work, and instead focus on the mandate itself being an infringement on their freedom. The mandate as an idea appears to be the thing that prompts some to go maskless—an act of defiance. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, is opposed to masks mandates despite being personally in favor of wearing masks—he says people should opt to wear them out of “personal responsibility.”
Given this stance, one might assume that if the wearing of masks is optional, these anti-mandate folks would opt to wear a mask to protect their community—or, as Gov. Burgum says, out of “personal responsibility.” And yet that is not what has happened. Not in North Dakota, where infections rates were rising faster than anywhere in the U.S. for nearly two months, and not in the Georgia school districts where masks were not mandated. Apparently, for a huge percentage of the American population, unless they are required to by law, they really would prefer to opt out of giving a shit.
In response to the massive spike in cases and deaths, North Dakota did eventually order its residents to wear masks, and—shocker—their cases as of this week are down 45% compared to two weeks ago, and deaths are down 26%.
In their efforts to maintain their personal freedom and also presumably keep the economy going, anti-maskers end up engendering an outcome that is precisely the opposite of their intent: when the virus spreads unchecked, schools are shut down. How free must these kids feel down the road when they realize that their parents’ apathy toward masks may have contributed to the suffering or death of a teacher they loved? How free are these parents when their child’s school shuts down and they now must figure out how to ensure their children continue learning—from home—and also still somehow continue to maintain their work schedule? How free do any of us feel when faced with the probability of our hospitals running out of ICU beds? Does anyone really benefit from this arrangement? Does the unchecked spread of COVID-19 make everyone “free”? Does anyone really believe that would be good for our economy?
Masks need to be mandatory in schools. We know masks prevent the spread of this virus and save lives. We know that kids generally adapt quickly to wearing masks. We have seen that the outcome of only half of a student population wearing masks results in people getting sick and schools getting needlessly shut down, adversely impacting the learning that anti-maskers claim to care so much about. So, for heaven’s sake, just mandate mask wearing in schools. It’s absurd that this is even still a debate.