School districts across the United States have an important decision to make before fall school begins: Will students be required to wear masks?
In Wichita, in the state of Kansas, public school students will be able to do without masks when school begins. Detroit public schools will likely require them among students who are not vaccinated. In Pittsburgh, the use of masks is likely to be required regardless of vaccination status. And in some states, schools cannot enforce face covering under any circumstances.
Faced with the increase in COVID-19 cases across the country due to the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus, school districts are once again faced with the realities of a polarized country and a persistent pandemic while circumventing mask requirements, regulations immunization and social distancing requirements for the new school year, which is fast approaching.
Deep political divisions over the outbreak have complicated decisions across the country. In some conservative states, lawmakers have banned districts from requiring the use of masks despite protests from health professionals. Schools are weighing a variety of plans to manage high school classrooms, filled with vaccinated and unvaccinated students.
“I am very frustrated that it has become a political issue, because it shouldn’t be. It’s science, ”said Mary Tuttle, who runs a home day care business in Indianapolis and has watched the debate in her state about vaccines and masks.
The Indianapolis district has yet to announce its mask policy, but she hopes they will be mandatory. She worries that the delta variant could lead to a return to remote classes, causing her 10-year-old daughter to become depressed and anxious last year.
“Emotionally, she really needed to be in school,” Tuttle explained, adding that her daughter will be inoculated as soon as the vaccine is approved for her age group. Another of his daughters will turn 12 six days after entering sixth grade and will be vaccinated as soon as possible.
The vaccine has not been approved for children under 12 years of age. If proven safe and effective for younger ages, vaccine manufacturers could apply for an emergency authorization sometime later this year.
Adding to the concern is the general increase in cases, sharply in some states, such as Arkansas, which do not allow schools to require the use of masks. On Tuesday, public health researchers called Arkansas’s rapid rise in infections and hospitalizations a “wildfire,” and the state’s chief health officer warned of the possibility of significant future outbreaks in schools.
Arkansas leads the country in new cases per capita, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers, and has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with only 35% of the population fully vaccinated.
Associated Press journalists Andrew DeMillo and Lindsey Tanner contributed to this report.