Why local schools need a mask mandate

Aug 06, 2021 at 10:15 am by Michelle Willard

Mask Up Murfreesboro

A year ago, the elderly and immune compromised were most at risk to contract the virus. But now, it's children under 12, who are not approved to receive any of the COVID-19 vaccines. 

At the same time, a new, more contagious variant, a.k.a., Delta, is spreading like wildfire through the California countryside. 

The current seven-day moving average of COVID cases nationwide has increased 64.1 percent compared to last week and 480 percent from July, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Hospitals are filling up again. This time with unvaccinated people and children. Just last weekend, two children died from COVID-19 in Memphis' Le Bonheur Hospital.

And today (Friday, Aug. 6) local schools are opening for the year, but without the best precaution to keep COVID-19's angry variant from punching students in the face.

Both Rutherford County and Murfreesboro City schools refuses to protect students and their families from the Delta variant by requiring students, teachers and staff wear a mask. 

For one, Kate Frye, a concerned mother with a child in Murfreesboro City Schools, recently brought this to my attention. She said she met with MCS Director Trey Duke and Director of Communications Lisa Trail to discuss the issue and was highly disappointed with their responses. 

"Masks work really well when everyone is wearing one. As the number of individuals in the space wearing a mask decreases, so does their efficacy at protecting the individuals wearing the mask," Frye said. "An optional mask policy will not provide adequate protection for our students, who have no other protection against the virus."

When masks were mandated throughout the state, transmission rates of the Alpha variant (i.e., the OG COVID) slowed. They also prevented the spread of the flu and common cold over the winter. 

But that didn't stop some parents from vocally opposing the mandate. 

Those are the people it seems Duke and his ilk are afraid of.

In an official communication with Frye, MCS said: “MCS continues to refer to the guidance of the CDC as we consider our opening plans. Based on updated recommendations, MCS is strongly recommending all parents and staff to follow the CDC recommendations regarding masks while indoors when schools resume this fall if social distancing is not possible. However, as with all healthcare decisions, we understand and respect that individual situations and parent choices may vary.”

What? Of course, healthcare decisions vary, but these same students are required to have their childhood vaccines before entering Kindergarten. MCS students aren't required to be vaccinated, they should just wear a simple mask to help prevent the spread.

Wearing a mask isn't even a healthcare decision. It's tantamount to a part of the dress code. If they can send a girl home for wearing shorts that are too short, then they can send home kids who refuse to wear masks.

After CDC recommendations were changed, Duke balked and still refused to implement a mask mandate. Then the school board refused to pay heed to a statement from all the doctors at Tennessee Pediatrics and MMC Pediatrics.

The pediatricians released the following statement on July 30:

"To Dr. Trey Duke and the Murfreesboro City School Board (Mr. Butch Campbell, Mr. David Settles, Mr. Wesley Ballard, Ms Roseann Barton, Ms. Becky Goff, Ms. Amanda Moore and Mr. Jimmy Richardson, III),

"As we start the 2021-22 Murfreesboro City School year, a large portion of students are not eligible to be vaccinated and a more contagious COVID variant is now causing the majority of cases in our community. Because of these circumstances and because we understand the importance of having all children in school, we and the American Academy of Pediatrics, advocate for all students, teachers and staff to start the year wearing masks while indoors at school in order to minimize the health risks to children, as well as faculty and staff. We are especially concerned about those children whose health conditions put them at higher risk for serious disease and death from this virus and who do not have an option of remote learning this year. Rutherford County is presently seeing a surge in COVID cases mostly caused by the Delta variant, which, predictably, has led to an increase in hospitalizations at Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital. Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville that serves many of the sickest children in our area is also experiencing an increase in hospitalizations and complications from COVID. 

"Thank you for your consideration of this matter."

For parents, like Frye, this is not only about their children, but also about the community at large.

"Our concern is for not only our children who will be wearing masks, but those many, many others," Frye said. "If the open houses are a gauge of mask-wearing numbers, then there will be too many students not wearing masks at school and in public."

She has no option except to send her daughter to public school where the unfounded concerns of a handful of loud parents trumps the advice of the CDC, pediatricians and actual experts. 

She doesn't even have the option of virtual class because the state, in all its wisdom, isn't allowing for distance learning. This means more students will be in classrooms and closer together, which facilitates the spread of disease when masks are required. 

If the Delta variant is as contagious as the Chicken Pox as the CDC says, then a single student can infect an entire classroom in the few days before they begin to show symptoms.

In Arkansas, where masks aren't allowed anywhere, there has been a 690 percent increase in cases under 12 years old, which is an age group not eligible for the vaccine. Arkansas has also seen a 270 percent increase in hospitalizations for children under the age of 18, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

Closer to home, Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City saw a 22 percent increase in all positive tests, fueled by kids under the age of 18.

Over the past year, we have let a vocal minority guide the decisions of our government and continue the spread of COVID-19.

It's time for someone - anyone - to stand up to these bullies and say, "Put on a mask!" It is literally the least you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Someone has to be the parent and that person should be Trey Duke because Gov. Bill Lee, Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron and Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland are too afraid to do the right thing. 

Sections: Voices