In a continued effort to decrease the spread of Covid-19, many Ohio schools have mandated the wearing of masks for both staff and students. On August 20, Superintendent Dr. Michael Barnes announced a mask mandate for Mayfield City Schools, grades Pre-K through 12. However, unlike last year, when masks were mandated for every student, this year, a masking waiver is available.
At the time of publication, the parents of 57 students out of the middle school’s roughly 900, had signed the mask waiver. This represents about 6% of the student body.
Initially, at the start of the 2021 school year, a mask mandate was issued for only Pre-K through grade 5. An August 17 email to parents read, “We will now require face masks for students in grades Pre-K-5, along with the staff and teachers in those school buildings during the school day. Face masks remain strongly recommended for all students and staff in grades 6-12.”
According to Dr. Barnes, this was done “in response to the community’s voice” and to protect those who are “young and can’t be vaccinated.” On August 20, however, the mandate was extended to include grades 6-12. In Dr. Barnes’s video announcement, he said “…a simple majority of our families from grades 6-12 would prefer a mask mandate.”
Prior to the mandate, about 20-30% of the students grades 6-8 had been wearing masks by choice. Barnes noted, “because of that low participation rate, we began to get worried.”
In regard to the waiver, Principal Paul Destino said, “Mayfield has a form that we are following.” On this waiver there is a section where parents have give a reason for their child not wearing a mask.
The exemption criteria options are that the student “cannot wear a mask due to the disability,” that the student “has been advised not to wear a mask due to health reasons,” or that “an established sincerely held religious requirement exists that does not permit the student to wear a mask.”
The most commonly cited reason for the waiver is religious beliefs. Interestingly, in several statements, Pope Francis has made it clear that Christians should be wearing masks. In his book ‘Let Us Dream: A Path to a Better Future’ he wrote, “Some groups protested, refusing to keep their distance, marching against travel restrictions – as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom!” He also said at one of his speeches to the public, people who don’t mask move in “their own little world of interests.” Just days before the Mayfield mask mandate, Pope Francis spoke, calling masks and vaccinations “an act of love” that promotes “caring for each other, especially the most vulnerable.”
Another common reason for the waiver, according to students interviewed, is the belief that being vaccinated makes masking unnecessary. As this was not an option on the waiver, those whose parents believed this checked one of the three waiver options, most-commonly religion. However, the medical and scientific communities suggest wearing masks even if you are vaccinated to prevent getting even sicker. Debbie Virant, Registered Nurse and Nurse Manager at University Hospitals said, “Being vaccinated is not a one hundred percent guarantee that you will be free from contracting Covid. Wearing a mask is helping to prevent the spread of the virus, as people may be asymptomatic but contagious.” She went on to say “being vaccinated helps to reduce the severeness of the disease as well as decrease the likelihood of being hospitalized and placed on a ventilator.”
People may also cite breathing difficulties as a reason to avoid masks. Debbie Virant said, “there are very few people where masking can create issues, and I do believe that there are different types and styles of masks that can help these people. Bottom line, I do think that by trial-and-error every person can wear a mask without being uncomfortable.”
According to Emily Gard, MSW, a clinical social worker specializing in behavioral health counseling in Fargo, North Dakota, masking does not affect breathing. On StanfordHealth.org she said, “Wearing a mask really has no impact on our overall quality and ability to breathe. ” She also said, “Sometimes there can be a perception that it may be difficult, but the research shows us there is no change in our ability to breathe.”
University of Michigan notes that even those with “severe lung disease, such as COPD or asthma” should still wear face coverings. Their health and medicine website notes, “There has been information reported that masks do not allow you take in enough oxygen, or that they increase CO2 levels, but there is no medical evidence to support these claims.”
Additionally, there are practical reasons to wear masks. Dr. Barnes noted in his video, “We can avoid quarantines by wearing masks, even if exposed.” Already, this has proven true. When students were recently exposed to a classmate who tested positive for Covid, those whose parents who had signed a mask waiver had to quarantine until they had negative test results; those wearing masks did not miss any school.
As Barnes stated, Barnes added, “Ultimately, our goal is to protect our students and staff and make sure we can stay in school learning together.”
Dr. Barnes noted that the mask mandate would be reviewed weekly.