Mask debate dividing communities as school year gets closer

Coronavirus

(NewsNation Now) — Mask mandates are pitting parents against each other — and school boards — across the country as the debate between comfort and risk boils over nationwide.

At a school board meeting in Auburn, Alabama last week, parents yelled from across the room they’d “had enough” with masks in the classroom.

In Colorado Wednesday, dozens of parents protested mask mandates for students by shouting “freedom, not force.“

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest guidance says all students, teachers and staff should wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. But, the recommendation has been complicated by lawmakers who oppose the guidance.

Some parents also feel it should be their choice if they feel their child is at risk and needs to be protected with a mask. Experts have said masks also blunt the spread of some aerosols that could contain the virus that causes COVID-19.

There are now at least nine states that have outlawed the required use of masks in schools: Florida, Vermont, South Carolina, Iowa, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and Utah.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is having a change of heart, however, after more than 700 students and staff at an east Arkansas school district have quarantined because of a coronavirus outbreak.

The 4,000-student district’s quarantine grew as lawmakers began a special session focused on efforts to roll back the state’s ban on mask mandates by schools and other government entities. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who signed the ban in April, called lawmakers into session to allow some schools to require masks.

In other states, mask mandates are proceeding despite the objections of some parents.

Administrators in Georgia’s largest school district, which started school Wednesday, say they’ve seen both sides. but ultimately are requiring masks to keep kids in the classroom.

“There were a lot of things that went into this decision,” Gwinnett County School District spokesperson Sloane Roach said. “Obviously the CDC’s recommendation played a key part in this, the upward trend in numbers here in Gwinnett, but the other fact is that 83,000 of our students are under the age of 12. They’re not even eligible to be vaccinated at this point.”

It comes as the number of kids in the hospital with COVID-19 is creeping up. On Tuesday, Dr. Clay Dunagan, of the St. Louis Metropolitan Task Force, said hospitals included in the task force have 20 children under the age of 19 hospitalized with COVID-19, compared with 13 children last week.

Ten of the patients are younger than 12, and the others are between 12 and 18. Three in the youngest age group and four in the oldest were in intensive care “fighting for their lives,” said Dunagan, chief clinical officer for BJC HealthCare.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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