Age of Awareness
Published in

Age of Awareness

Illustration by Rose Wong published in the NYT, adapted from Ian M. Mackay and James T. Reason.

Should we celebrate mask mandates in school? Yes and no.

In Texas the current debate about school reopenings revolves almost entirely around one issue — whether to mandate mask wearing or not. The problem with this hyperfocus on mask mandates is that it allows schools to remain sites of infection during this delta wave of the pandemic even if the side who is concerned about the spread of disease wins out over the side who is unconcerned about it. Masking is a necessary intervention, so yes we should celebrate mask mandates in schools. But it is only one of multiple interventions that can reduce the spread of disease, and it is not the most effective, particularly now.

The most effective intervention is to stay home during periods of uncontrolled spread. For schools, that means shutting down all in-person operations. But none of the school districts in the state or political parties in Texas seem to be considering not reopening covid infection sites for their majority unvaccinated populations.

Other interventions that are as important as masks include ventilation and vaccines.

Ventilation: if one must (and schooling is not a must) come together during periods of uncontrolled spread then a must includes excellent ventilation — quickly filtering inside air or replacing inside air with outside air. The minimum standard should be six air changes per hour, which most schools are incapable of achieving. So the best ventilation option is to go outdoors once spread is not wildly out of control. But, because spread is wildly out of control schools shouldn’t even be reopening now.

Vaccines: vaccines greatly reduce the chances of serious illness or death relative to being unvaccinated, and they also significantly shorten the infectious period for breakthrough infections. The chances of serious illness or death from Covid-19 are magnitudes of order greater than the chances of vaccine injury, and the negative outcomes of Covid-19 dwarf the negative outcomes of vaccine injury. Everyone should get vaccinated if they can as it will help protect them and ultimately help protect everyone around them. But, because spread is wildly out of control schools shouldn’t even be reopening now, especially since almost every K-12 school in Texas has a majority unvaccinated population.

So celebrate mask mandates in school, yes, but demand that schools shut down in-person learning during this delta wave of the pandemic. And if the schools refuse to close, then parents should refuse to send their kids to school, students should refuse to show up to school, and teachers and staff should refuse to show up for work. Public health requires collective action. Mask mandates are not sufficient in this moment.

There are better alternatives for schools. Educators and decisions makers are encouraged to read and copy our plan at http://www.abrome.com/covid-19

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Antonio Buehler

Antonio Buehler

Anti-oppression. Liberation through education: @AbromeEd. End police abuse: @PeacefulStreets.