Masks in September

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A medical team member wearing a protective suit checks a student’s temperature during testing for the coronavirus at a school in Baghdad, Iraq, December 14, 2020. (Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters)

Israel, deep into its process of vaccinating the population, is seeing COVID-19 levels drop to next to nothing. Remarkably, the most populous county in the U.S. reported zero new COVID deaths yesterday. It is time to celebrate that the pandemic is really coming to a close where the vaccines are widely available. Many counties in the United States have vaccinated more than 70 percent of residents over 65 years of age.

And yet, here in the Northeast of the United States, one hears “word” circulating, from school districts and administrators, that children — even young children — will continue to be masked in September and that districts are planning to mask at least until there is no evidence of a winter surge. This flies in the face of what we know about COVID transmission, and of what other countries have experienced. It also just strikes me as backwards, and as a recipe for having yet another full school year in masks and deferring the question to September 2022.

Proceeding unmasked in September will get people used to the idea that schools operating close to normality are not a danger. If there is a winter COVID surge in the community or the emergence of a new variant, then any temporary adoption of masks among teenage students can be quickly deployed and quickly abandoned in spring when case loads drop.

Too many leaders and institutions are waiting for a zero-questions attitude that cannot emerge until they themselves act on the evidence on hand. If you want people to believe the evidence that the schools are safe, stop operating them as if they are unsafe.

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