By Guy Page
Will Vermont public school students be required to wear masks this fall? That question is under discussion now among Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine, Education Secretary Dan French, and other health and education experts. Their answer may be forthcoming next week.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Levine may have tipped his hand: unable to vaccinate under age 12, masking may be the next-best option. At the 64 minute, 40 second mark, WCAX reporter Calvin Cutler asked:
“Dr Levine, quick question about masking and schools. We talked about the CDC guidance last week. The CDC says some fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks, but the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending everybody [two years or older] to wear masks regardless of vaccination status. Given what we know now about the spread of the delta variant, and how that’s playing out, which way are you leaning?”
Commissioner Levine responded:
“They’re all basing their recommendations on science and trying to be, in the case of AAP, as conservative as possible to keep things as safe for kids. I’ll be meeting here in Vermont with infectious disease experts and other pediatricians and advisors later this week, and along with [VT Education] Secretary French as well. We’re going to weigh all of these varying pieces of guidance and the science, along with our experience with masking, along with what Covid looks like now in Vermont, and what we anticipate it will look like in the fall with regard to community transmission levels. We’ll look at vaccination rates, at least among the students who are eligible currently to be vaccinated, as we prepare for the fall.
“When you look at the guidances that have come out, much of them are really about actually reopening school, something that Vermont did a long long time ago and has done very successfully. What we’re planning for in Vermont is a safe return to school, as opposed to suddenly having to reopen school and invent that entire playbook again.
“So we’ll have more to say on that after these meetings we have this week. But I can understand where the guidance comes from because, obviously, kids under 12 are ineligible at this time to be vaccinated and these organizations want to keep them as safe as possible.”
In a July 21 letter to the Vermont Board of Education, Colchester parent and educator Genna Barnaby cited statistics showing the extremely low risk of Covid in schools: no children have died of Covid-19 in Vermont – one of 41 states with a zero fatality rate among children. Of 9000 Vermont school-based employees tested for Covid, only 21 tested positive – a rate of .002.
“There are no CDC reported studies of mask usage in children over a long period of time prior to the pandemic, yet there are reports of influenza-like illnesses and labored breathing while masking,” Barnaby wrote. “Masking also affects the quality of education, development of speech, language, social-emotional skills, and social life. Recommending that all or only noninjected people wear masks in schools is not based on sound science.”