Masks and Vax in School: Ten Reasons to Have Masks in Class
Updated: Nov 27, 2022
Q. Do you support bringing back masks mandates for schools, defying provincial orders, if necessary? Do you support your board demanding that the province add vaccination for Covid to the provincial list?
A. (on the fly on Twitter) It will be so much harder to get masks back now that they're gone! I'll do whatever I can. At the very least better messaging can make a huge difference. Vax being added to the list seems pretty do-able and more supported.
A. (after more thought):
One of the concerns that provokes me to run for trustee is protecting students from Covid, and now from the burgeoning Monkeypox, with Mask Mandates. N95 masks are very effective at stopping the spread of this virus. See a great explanation for how they work here:
And the BA.5 mutation is even better at skirting around vaccine-provoked immunity. Vaccines are important, but they're not enough to stop the spread. In Ontario, our rate of hospitalization for Covid is six times higher than for a car collision. We wear seatbelts to protect ourselves in traffic; we should be wearing masks to protect ourselves in classrooms. Removing mandates because cases slowed down just makes the next wave come sooner.
Masks really work! One study found, "Among feasible interventions tested in our model, mask wearing is the most effective against airborne transmission (8-fold reduction in cumulative dose absorbed) and is the only one that also protects against short-range transmission" (Sun et al., 2020), and a more recent study study found a combined intervention (mask, vax, and ventilate) shows a 25-fold decrease in cases even in the presence of a super-spreader event (Villers et al., 2022). Mask mandates work. We have a pivotal tool to prevent a horrible illness, so why toss it aside before the pandemic is over?
Not having mandates is actively ableist against students and staff who are immunocompromised or otherwise more affected by covid than the typical population. Education must be accessible for all students, and not providing a safe space for people avoiding a brain-invasive illness with potential for permanent consequences, makes it impossible for some to enter the building.
Many kids want to mask, but can't stand up to the peer pressure if they're the only one in the class who understands the risk level and reality of LongCovid. This isn't a "choice" that should be left in the hands of children.
Many classrooms still do not have adequate ventilation (HEPA filters or Corsi-Rosenthal boxes, which are still not allowed in our board), and CO2 levels in classrooms sometimes reach above the recommended 700 ppm without any mitigating interventions. This is particularly a concern directly following lunch, when my own classroom often hit over 2,000 ppm CO2 in the room, and I was discouraged from opening windows a crack regardless the health risk. We're really bad at weighing short-term discomfort over long term disability, so we need safety rules mandated.
We're currently seeing average wait times in emergency rooms of 20 hours, and some ERs have had to close periodically. We desperately need to stop the spread to ensure access to urgent health care for other health issues. People can be reinfected in just 28 days, and rotating illnesses obviously hamper educational success. Ontario Public Health noted that reinfections increase the risk of all-cause mortality; effects of getting Covid over and over are accumulative. It's not just the flu.
We're learning more and more about the risk of LongCovid. We have a duty to protect our students from ongoing difficulty breathing, overwhelming fatigue, and deadly blood clots. The educational affects of LongCovid will be a long-term problem in our society. According to the CDC, 20% of people who had Covid (even mild or asymptomatic) ended up later getting LongCovid.
Making masks a choice creates division. When we all have to mask, then masks aren't discussed or questioned. Once the rules are removed, people start to align themselves based on face covering, setting up antagonistic situations in the classroom. A mask mandate will help prevent more than just the virus.
One-way masking is significantly less effective at preventing the spread, which puts people at risk of the grief experienced when they get Covid at school and unwittingly spread it to family members.
Regarding vaccinations, our current government is very much in favour of everyone keeping up-to-date with Covid vaccines, and that can be promoted by adding it to the list of vaccinations expected of staff and students. Like all other vaccinations, there are specific ways parents can opt-out as necessary. Having the vaccine as a default will encourage more people to get it if there were previously on the fence. Vaccines DO work to reduce severity of symptoms, but aren't enough to stop the spread. Check out this video from the UK explaining why a vaccine-only strategy won't work.
There may be students who leave the board for a separate school or private school or homeschool because of a mask mandate, but I believe we will get just as many returning or coming for the first time. I've already heard from parents who have put their children in a private school once masks disappeared in our classrooms. This will provoke their return.
I know that there will be some voters who are adamantly opposed to mask mandates. That's the great thing about our democratic system. You're free to vote for candidates who prefer that our students be allowed to risk catching and spreading a disabling disease.
ETA: If you enjoyed this piece, and hope I become a trustee, consider donating to my campaign! I can pick up cash or cheques, or you can easily send an eTransfer to firstname.lastname@example.org indicating your email and home address. I can't win without getting my name out there, and I need a bit of funding to do that, unfortunately!
Sun, K., Wang, W., Geo, L., Wang, Y., Luo, K., Ren, L., Zhan, Z., Chen., X., Zhow., S., Yu, H., (2020, November 24). Transmission heterogeneities, kinetics, and controllability of SARS-CoV-2. Science, Vol. 273, No. 6526, DOI: 10.1126/science.abe2424.
Villers, J. Henriques, A., Calarco, S., Rognlien, M., Nicolas, M., Devine, J., Azzopardi, G., Elson, P., Andreini, M., Tarocco, N., Vasselia, C., Keiser, O. (2022, May 23). SARS-CoV-2 aerosol transmission in schools: The effectiveness of different interventions. Swiss Medical Weekly. https://doi.org/10.4414/smw.2022.w30178.