A colleague’s 5-year-old son wears a mask to his Catholic elementary school because he is too young to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. His mom wants to protect him and his classmates from contracting the virus that is now sickening children at an alarming rate. Families ought to be able to celebrate the return of children to in-school learning, face to face with their peers and their teachers. They should not have to worry about loved ones getting sick with COVID-19.
Rising cases of sick kids, coupled with Iowa’s prohibition of a mask mandate by schools, city and county government, give us plenty of reason to worry. Our faith calls us to make sacrifices to change the trajectory, for the sake of our children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported Aug. 23, “After declining in early summer, child cases have increased exponentially, with over a four-fold increase the past month, rising from about 38,000 cases the week ending July 22nd to 180,000 the past week. … Since the pandemic began, children represented 14.6% of total cumulated cases. For the week ending August 19, children were 22.4% of reported weekly COVID-19 cases.” (https://tinyurl.com/h5ypj7fv).
With the school year now in full swing, we have to consider the consequences of the ban on face coverings in Iowa schools for our children, families, teachers and everyone else with whom they interact. Some children are wearing masks and some are not, depending on their parents’ exercise of free choice, of which Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is a champion. What is the price for this exercise of free choice?
One of the consequences appears to be a federal investigation, announced Aug. 30, of Iowa and four other states that prohibit mask mandates in school. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights said it intends to explore whether the prohibition discriminates against students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 by preventing them from safely accessing in-person education.
“At this time, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon among children,” the AAP reported. “However, there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.” Gov. Reynolds emphasizes the importance of ensuring children’s good mental health. Prohibiting mask mandates simply adds to the confusion and uncertainty children face in this ongoing pandemic.
When the colleague’s 5-year-old attended Unpack your Backpack Night, he noticed that many of the students were not wearing masks and asked his mom, “Why do I have to wear a mask? No one else is wearing one.” His teacher explained why she wears a mask and his mom told him that wearing a mask “is something he can do to keep the people he loves from getting sick.”
“Wearing a mask is one way to reduce the spread of Delta and other variants” of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control recommends on its website (cdc.gov). “People who are not fully vaccinated should wear a mask indoors in public at all levels of community transmission” and even “people who are fully vaccinated should wear a mask indoors in areas of substantial or high transmission.” Iowa is an area of high transmission.
Some parents worry about the safety of children wearing masks and what impact it might have on their development. Two pediatric specialists assure us of the safety of mask wearing. “Masks are an important tool in preventing COVID’s spread, especially as dangerous variants circulate among unvaccinated children. They are safe and effective for anyone over 2 years old. Don’t hesitate to talk with your child’s pediatrician if you have any questions about your child wearing face masks,” say Drs. Kimberly W. Dickinson and Theresa W. Guilbert (healthychildren.org).
On the front page of this week’s Catholic Messenger, Bishop Thomas Zinkula makes a statement about vaccination that speaks to our responsibility to one another as the body of Christ. That statement follows one he made last month urging the wearing of masks by everyone over the age of 2 at any indoor gathering or public space, including the liturgy. “We especially urge priests, deacons, and other ministers to set a good example in this regard,” he wrote.
For the sake of our children, let us all set a good example to work toward eradicating the pandemic by getting vaccinated and masking the kids and wearing masks ourselves. In doing so, we demonstrate our stand to protect life.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor