In July, I wrote about my position on masks in our schools. Much has changed since then as the Delta variant of COVID-19 took hold. The day I posted my first message about masks, July 9, 2021, Pierce County was reporting a 14-day case rate per 100,000 of 38. That was very near the lowest case rate reported since mid-September of 2020 and I was optimistic about what options might be available when schools opened. Things changed. The day our schools opened for the 2021-2022 school year, our 14-day case rate per 100,000 had increased significantly to 353. After a plateau, Pierce County has seen the 14-day case rate begin to decrease over the last week, standing at 261 today.
Some very important things have not changed. Most important, School Boards still do not have the legal authority to override the decisions of the Washington State Department of Health. Failure to comply with the mask mandate would result in the loss of State funding for our schools. No amount of disruptions of our School Board meetings will change that, and will only serve to take time away from focusing our attention on those things we can do for our children.
During the 2020-2021 school year, the District had reported 241 total positive cases. In the first six weeks of the 2021-2022 school year, we’ve already exceeded that number.
I still believe that School Boards aren’t public health departments, and aren’t comprised of public health experts. Decisions about how best to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 must be rooted in public health, not politics. In the last four weeks, my family has received five notifications from our son’s school about someone at the school testing positive, but that our child was not believed to have been exposed. Masks aren’t a perfect solution, and they can’t be our only response, but they are an important part of a multilayered approach to providing our children with uninterrupted instruction.
Vaccines have not yet been approved for children younger than 12, and in Pierce County we’ve vaccinated a little over 50% of those between the ages of 12 and 17. For the foreseeable future, we’ll still need to have additional mitigation measures in place for those who are not yet vaccinated, medically vulnerable, or unable to be vaccinated. Exactly what those measures will look like will depend on what the experts in the field recommend. In that decision, like so many others, I’ll seek out the opinions of people who know the issue better than I do and make sure they inform our process. Let’s focus on keeping our kids in school, receiving uninterrupted instruction, and getting the education they deserve.
[Note: I wear a mask when canvassing voters, ringing doorbells and knocking on doors. I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of voters during my campaign. Dozens have thanked me for masking and considered it a reason to support my candidacy, while only one person shared that they “didn’t believe in masks.”]