Teachers, medical professionals react to state’s continued ban on mask mandates for classrooms

Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 4:24 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 28, 2021 at 8:55 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is still working on its new guidelines for how schools can reopen safely in August without masks being required. A proviso of the state’s budget bans public classrooms from mandating masks if they want to keep their state funding. However, state health officials and others in the medical community are strongly encouraging individuals to stay covered.

“We encourage parents, teachers and school faculty to wear their masks so they can protect each other, particularly if they are unvaccinated,” that was the message from state Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell Wednesday.

Meanwhile, many educators are worried that the wrong message is being sent by legislators’ banning mask mandates. They are especially concerned as COVID-19 case numbers spike once again and the Delta variant and other mutations make the coronavirus more infectious and dangerous for the unvaccinated.

There’s a large age range of children in schools who are still not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines.

“The vast majority of our school age population is not vaccine eligible. Children 5 to 12 can’t get the vaccine yet, and so, we are closing the door with this legislative proviso to an important mitigation strategy that could be employed when the most important mitigation strategy, vaccines, are not currently available to our kids.” Palmetto State Teachers Association Director of Governmental Affairs Patrick Kelly said. “That’s going to be stressful on teachers and educators because their primary duty is to the health and safety and well-being of our children. Even before the academic well-being, we’ve got to take care of their health and their safety, and that’s a hard thing to do during a pandemic. And it’s an even harder thing when you take away available mitigation strategies off the table.”

DHEC officials are expected to release their recommendations for safe school reopening plans by the end of this week. Those guidelines will outline any changes to measures like contact tracing and quarantine policies for the upcoming school year.

“With so few students wearing masks, the time it takes for one person to infect another is going to be much less, so I do anticipate a lot more cases this year than we saw law year,” MUSC Pediatric Infectious Disease Dr. Allison Eckard. “Our primary goal, in addition to safety, is keeping the schools functioning and keeping kids in the classroom, and the best way we can do that is to keep everybody masked.”

It’s less common for healthy kids to get seriously sick from a COVID-19 infection, but more than 120 in South Carolina have been hospitalized because of a severe complication caused by the virus called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome or MIS-C.

“Those children are healthy children of all ethnic and racial backgrounds and are critically ill when they are admitted to the hospital,” Eckard said. “This is just another reason we need to be cognizant of keeping kids safe in schools. Most kids recover very easily from COVID but there is a risk of MIS-C, so everything we can do to keep the classroom safe contributes to all of these things including keeping kids out of the hospital with MIS-C.”

Eckard said some kids still show the effects of heart damage six to nine months after leaving the hospital following treatment for MIS-C.

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