EDITORIAL: Mandate masks in all school districts


If you’re one of those people who still thinks wearing a face mask is ineffective against the spread of covid or that you have some kind of constitutional right not to wear one in public, then do our kids and educators a big favor and stay out of school buildings.

As schools around the state work on plans to reopen, one oddly inconsistent element of the plans relates to the wearing of masks.

That prompted the New York State United Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers unions, in a letter to state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker on Thursday, to call for a statewide school mask mandate.

Study after study has shown that wearing a mask can have a significant impact on reducing the spread of the coronavirus, tamping down the virus-carrying water droplets that hang in the air when someone speaks or coughs.

A recent study at Duke University tested 14 different types of masks, and found most to be effective — particularly 3-layer surgical masks, cotton-polypropylene-cotton masks, 2-layer polypropylene masks and 2-layer cotton pleated-style mask. The least effective masks, the Duke study found, were the thin gaiter-type neck fleeces, double-layer bandannas and knitted masks.

And masks are most effective when everyone in the room is wearing one.

Yet the unions cited several school districts that had different proposed policies toward masks.

For example, the letter stated that several school districts would only require masks when students are moving or when social distancing can’t be maintained, such as passing in the hallways. 

But several districts aren’t requiring masks during classroom instruction. 

Other districts offered policies that were confusing or inconsistent.

A uniform policy issued by the state would clear up the confusion, help make school buildings safer for their student and staff occupants, help reduce the spread of the virus and reduce the chances that a school or a district would have to suspend in-person classes in the event of a spike in infections.

Some reasonable exceptions could be made for students with medical conditions or when students are eating. The unions also back regular mask breaks.

Everyone knows masks can get hot and uncomfortable after a while.

But the benefits of wearing them far outweigh the discomfort, especially when it affects the education and safety of our children and school staff.

It’s time the state get every district on the same page and require that every reopening plan contain a provision that masks be mandatory for everyone inside school buildings.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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