Require Masks in Vermont Schools

Require Masks in Vermont Schools

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Vermont Parents for COVID Safety started this petition to Vermont Department of Education and

Even if you don't have children, universal masking in schools affects you. Israel's current surge began in the schools with unvaccinated children.

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What is the problem? Here is a high-level summary:

  1. Kids under 12 cannot get vaccinated
  2. People who are vaccinated can catch and transmit Delta. (Even if they are not very sick themselves.)
  3. Masks work best when both the person who has COVID and the healthy person wear them. The CDC and AAP are recommending universal masking in schools for K-12. Vermont AAP president Rebecca Bell has been vocal about Vermont schools needing universal masking for the safety of our entire community.
  4. Currently, the Dept of Ed. is only requiring everyone to wear masks for the first 10 days of the school year. Once 80% of the school is vaccinated, then only kids under 12 need to wear masks.
  5. This puts children too young to receive a shot at higher risk. They won't have the shot. Just the mask they are wearing. Other people will not be wearing a mask to protect them.
  6. This puts our entire community at risk. Current guidance also increases the likelihood of vaccinated staff/older siblings in schools catching Delta and bringing it home. In fact, the current outbreak in Israel began with 1 unvaccinated child spreading Delta to 80 other children. 
  7. Vermont's high vaccination rate is not enough. Israel - which has similar vaccination rates and was also a COVID "success story" - is currently battling a surge. The NY Times writes: "Israel's cases have more than doubled in the last two weeks." Vermont is headed in that direction with a 245% increase over the last two weeks alone.
  8. Middle schools are a huge loophole in current guidance. Most middle schools will have 6th graders who are too young to be vaccinated surrounded by older students who are. This means unvaccinated children in middle schools will be surrounded by an unmasked population that can transmit Delta once a school reaches 80% vaccination and masks are dropped.

Longer summary:

Vermont has made incredible strides towards ending the COVID-19 pandemic, but children under 12 are still not eligible for vaccines. Even if that approval comes in Sept or Oct (which seems to be the earliest) that is after the school year has started. People are not fully protected against severe COVID illness until 2 weeks after their second shot.

Areas where schools are opening with masks mandates show that masking works, which is why the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics say schools should require masks regardless of vaccine status.

By contrast, the current Department of Education guidance (as of 8.19.21) only requires masks for 10 school days, then no masks are required for kids over 12 if 80% of the school is vaccinated. This leaves unvaccinated children totally vulnerable and increases the likelihood of older siblings carrying the virus home.

Vermont is basing its decisions upon how COVID infected people before Delta. Previously, surrounding unvaccinated children with fully vaccinated people was a good approach. But we now know that fully vaccinated people transmit Delta. 

The following facts have changed since last year and make universal masks in schools one of the best ways to create a safe learning environment for all students:

  • Delta has 1,200% the viral load of previous versions of the virus. This version of COVID is as contagious as chickenpox.
  • Vaccinated people transmit Delta with the same viral load, even if they themselves are protected from severe illness.
  • Vermont's high vaccination rate is not enough. This is pre-Delta thinking. As the NY Times writes about Israel's current surge: "What was true for the original virus 'did not necessarily hold true for future variants coupled with waning immunity.'"
  • Children can get very sick. Child hospitalizations are the highest they’ve been during the whole pandemic. And increasing fast. COVID-19 is now a top 10 cause of death for adolescents.
  • Long-haul symptoms are not uncommon. Even if children do not die as often as adults, they can suffer from long-haul COVID. So far it is estimated that as much as 8% of all children who catch COVID will suffer from long haul symptoms such as difficulty breathing. 
  • The CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics and top health experts are all recommending universal masking in schools. Saying that masking is a personal choice is not a smart public health decision. 
  • Schools do not want to make this decision. Schools are anxious about making this choice on their own. It is the responsibility of our leaders to protect those most vulnerable and create a safe learning environment for everyone.
  • A recent outdoor summer camp in Vermont had an outbreak of 25 people and counting. This trend will only accelerate once school begins at the end of August, especially once children move indoors. (Edit: 28 people as of 8/16/21)
  • Allowing Delta to burn through our schools could also spur new variants. The more opportunities COVID has to mutate, the more likely a variant will appear that vaccines do not work against. Then we'll be back to square one.

Up until this point, Vermont has followed the science. That is why we have done so well during this pandemic. Studies showing that in-person learning was not a significant source of transmission last year were based upon situations where all teachers and students were wearing masks, social distancing, and taking other precautions.

Removing universal masking from the equation AND having a more contagious COVID variant in the mix is a recipe for rapid spread through schools. This will result in quarantines and schools needing to go remote.

We need to mandate masking in schools to create a safe and stable learning environment for everyone. Children need to be in school. And requiring masks  - regardless of vaccination status - is one of the best safety measures we can put in place. 

As of 8.19.21 Gov Scott and Dan French have said this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, so get your shot. Yet at the same time, they will not require masks in schools, where children too young to be vaccinated will be gathering in less than two weeks.

Please sign this petition and share it with as many people as possible.


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