Kentucky legislators are meeting today in the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee to consider the actions recently taken by the Governor and the Kentucky Board of Education to require universal masking in Kentucky's schools. The science (and devastating consequences we see in school districts where masking is optional) is clear: masking in schools keeps kids safe, keeps them in school, and keeps America on the road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
KEJC's Health Law Fellow, Shannon Rempe, wrote a letter to the committee members in support of the steps the Governor and Board of Education have taken to protect Kentucky's children, many of whom are still ineligible to receive the vaccine.
The full letter is below and here is a .pdf of the letter with hyperlinks in the footnotes to the source material.
Please share this letter with your friends and family. And, please use this tool ⤵️ to write a short letter to your state Representative and Senator to tell them you support requiring masks in Kentucky schools. Anti-maskers are loud. We need to be louder!
August 17, 2021
Re: Regulations related to mask requirements; Masking saves lives
Dear Senator Stephen West & Representative David Hale,
We realize you have limited time during today’s Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee meeting to hear testimony from Kentuckians on the issue of mask requirements in Kentucky’s schools. Here is our written testimony for your consideration. The Governor, public health officials, the business community, and the state school board are united and correct: the best way to protect Kentucky’s children, teachers, economy, and vulnerable citizens is to require masks in Kentucky’s schools.
Amid a nationwide spike in coronavirus infections and with delta variant raging through Kentucky, for the record, and for the Commonwealth, the Kentucky Equal Justice Center urges this committee to approve both emergency administrative regulations 702 KAR 1:195E: Face Coverings in School Facilities, and 902 KAR 2:213E: Childcare standards for covering the face in response to declared national or state public health emergency.
It is essential that Kentucky implement immediate, universal masking requirements in schools and childcare settings, both to protect our children and to avoid significant disruptions to the 2021-22 school year. This is of particular importance in schools with students below the age of 12, who do not yet have the option of vaccination, so they are at significant risk of both acquiring and spreading the virus.
Delta Poses a New, Accelerated Risk to Schools
The Delta variant is more contagious than its predecessors and data suggests that it causes more severe illness than previous strains in unvaccinated persons. Specifically the Delta variant is about 50% more infectious than the Alpha variant, which means COVID-19 is now significantly more transmissible than it was in the previous school year. In North Carolina, a school-level COVID-19 “modeling found that without masks or regular testing, up to 90% of susceptible students may become infected by the end of the semester.” This modeling also found that masks and testing can prevent 80% of new infections, which would mean less frequent quarantines for students and would maximize the time students are present for in-person learning. Further the harm of new infections goes beyond student-to-student transmission. Exposed students can bring this virus home to any number of immunocompromised individuals, whether that be younger siblings, pregnant mothers, or other vulnerable adults.
We have seen the devastating consequences of refusing to require masking in schools in other states:
Yesterday in Tampa, FL the Hillsborough County Public Schools have 5,599 students and 316 employees in quarantine or isolation. They did not have a mandatory mask mandate in place for the start of school, which was exactly 1 week ago.
The Scottsdale Unified School District in Arizona does not have a mask mandate, and since the start of school there have been 78 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 150 students sent home, and 632 students quarantined.
An eighth-grader in Smith County, MS died over this weekend just days after testing positive for COVID-19. Her school did not have a mandatory mask mandate in place for the start of school, which was on August 6th.
In one Arkansas school district, just 3 days after the new school year began, 839 students, educators and staff are quarantining. This district had a mask-optional policy.
Arizona's Ash Fork School District also temporarily closed campuses less than a week after opening its doors for the school year because of an outbreak of coronavirus cases.
Arkansas, Arizona, Mississippi, and Florida are among the states that have “passed laws in recent months blocking school districts from mandating the use of masks in schools or whose governors have signed executive orders to the same effect.”
The lesson is clear. We have the data to support masking in schools as an effective method of mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Studies done during the previous school year found lower rates of transmission in mask-on-mask school environments in which both the infected person and close contact wore masks. Superintendents in districts without mask mandates have even noticed that last year there were “very few cases” of on-campus spread of COVID-19 because of students and staff masking. Until all children can get vaccinated (and community spread of COVID-19 is low), masks remain a well‑researched solution for slowing the spread and keeping children in school, and we should embrace the measures that keep them safe.
We Must Protect Kentucky’s Children
As much as this is also about protecting our teachers and school staff, we cannot set aside concern over the health and safety of our children, the nation’s future. Hospitalizations of Kentuckians testing positive for COVID-19, including children, are increasing at an alarming rate. Since the start of the pandemic, 40% of all children admitted with severe COVID-19 to KY Children’s hospital arrived in the last 2 weeks. Kentucky hospitals are seeing both a rise in infections among children, as well as a rise in complications from COVID-19. There has also been a surge in children diagnosed with a combination of COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which health officials worry could put younger patients at greater risk. Further, we have not yet realized the full impact this virus may have on children in the long-term. In Mississippi, a study found as many as 15 to 20% of children who get the virus have long-term effects such as fatigue and difficulty breathing. A new UK study revealed that around 1 in 20 children hospitalized with COVID-19 develop neurological complications linked to the viral infection.
Given these projections, there is a legitimate concern over hospital capacity and the number of staffed pediatric beds available. The resurgence in hospitalizations during the current delta-driven wave has far surpassed those seen in the winter months and has left some hospital systems on the brink of collapse. Rising child hospitalizations due to COVID-19 could also further strain an already overburdened and understaffed pediatric healthcare system.
The facts are plain: sending children to school without universal masking in place will increase their risk of acquiring and spreading COVID-19, and some children will suffer serious illness or die. But this goes beyond protecting an individual child from getting sick, this is about protecting all children. So children involved in accidents can have their injuries treated. So children who have developed mental health problems stemming from social isolation can receive the help they need. So children with curable pediatric cancers can continue to receive their life-saving treatments. So children with allergic reactions, diabetes or asthma crises can continue to be saved.
We hope you consider the full impact of these emergency regulations and the urgent need for universal masking in schools and childcare settings. We will be submitting formal comments in support of the proposed regulation, as well as fighting against dangerous bills like the one Rep. Bechler prefiled yesterday.
Thank you for your time,
Shannon Rempe, J.D., M.P.H.
Health Law Fellow
Kentucky Equal Justice Center