FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Millions of students in Florida, Texas and Arizona are now required to wear masks in class as school boards in mostly Democratic areas have defied their Republican governors and made face coverings mandatory.
The three states are all hot spots in the nation's recent COVID-19 surge, and defiant boards in Miami, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix and other urban areas argue that requiring masks protects students, teachers and staff from contracting and spreading the virus as many pediatric hospitals fill.
The districts often cite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends teachers, staff and students all wear masks regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated.
“This thing (the virus) is not playing with us,” Marcia Andrews, a member of the Palm Beach County, Florida, school board, said this week as it passed a mask mandate, according to the Palm Beach Post. “I don’t want to see a kid die.”
The governors argue that wearing masks stifles learning and does little to stop the virus's spread but children rarely get seriously ill from the disease. They say mandates violate parents' rights to determine how best to protect their children.
“Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said when he banned local mask mandates.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in a July executive order barring masks, cited a Brown University study that examined schools in New York, Florida and Massachusetts. He said it showed masks at schools made little difference, but it had a caveat he doesn't cite: It analyzed cases associated with schools and not cases spread in schools.
One of the study's authors, Brown economist Emily Oster, said recently that she was not consulted by the governor and the study relied on data from before the emergence of the more contagious delta variant. She supports masks in schools.
Dr. Jessica Snowden, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Arkansas Children's Hospital, said masks are proven to cut the virus's spread among children if worn consistently. She said the delta variant infects children more often and makes them sicker than last year's variants, adding that masks do not impede learning.
“There is lots of evidence that supports masking and there is no evidence that it causes any harm,” she said. “Children are much more adaptable than adults are.”
Florida and Texas combined make up 15% of the U.S. population but 28% of its recent COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC, and both states have seen their hospitalization numbers skyrocket over the past two months. Arizona's COVID-19 cases have jumped sixfold since June.
Mask rules in U.S. public schools vary widely. Eleven states require masks, including California, Illinois, Louisiana and Kentucky, while Florida, Texas and five other states ban them: Utah, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Iowa and South Carolina. Arizona's ban takes effect Sept. 29. The other states leave the decision to local officials.
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