The Douglas County Board of Health has issued a Public Health Order that allows parents to exempt their children from the student mask mandate. The order, which went into effect on November 13, 2018, follows an October 3rd directive by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC requiring schools to instruct all students in grades K-12 to wear masks while they are at school.
It is our duty as public health officials to protect the public’s health, said Dr. Althea Hayden, MD, MPH, board chair of the Douglas County Board of Health and we believe this measure will help reduce absenteeism. In addition, because the CDC has advised that wearing a mask for twenty-four hours can render it ineffective and pass on more germs to others, we have also recommended that all students receive a fresh face mask daily.
Although there is scant evidence to support the CDC’s recommendation that masks prevent flu transmission, Dr. Hayden stated that because the CDC has advised that masks can reduce the rate of flu transmission by as much as fifty percent we feel we have no other option than to follow their directive.
The CDC has also recommended that masks not be worn outside the home, due to inadequate evidence for effectiveness and interference with normal activities such as breathing, eating, and talking. We recommend all children wear a mask to and from school, but once they are in the building, we ask that students remove their masks.
Masks may be purchased at any local drug store or medical supply outlet. The Douglas County Health Department has recommended that parents of children who suffer from respiratory conditions such as asthma should consult their family physician about an appropriate type of mask for their child.
According to Dr. Hayden, the Board’s decision was not influenced by the October 31 announcement that flu season has ended but was based on the CDC’s recommendation that even during non-flu season children should continue to wear masks as long as there is the widespread transmission of respiratory illnesses in schools.
CDC officials were asked if they had any objection to the Board’s action but were unavailable for comment.
The mask mandate has proven unpopular with many parents who complain that masks are uncomfortable and inconvenient for children, interfere with their breathing and eating, pose a choking hazard for younger students, offer limited protection from airborne viruses, and require frequent laundering which is an added expense to already cash-strapped families.
The Board has not yet announced what sanctions will be taken against students who violate the mandate, but they did indicate that parents and guardians would receive a written warning and could face fines of up to $250 and/or community service if their children repeatedly refuse to wear masks.
Widespread criticism from parents about the inconvenience of wearing masks has been compounded by a lack of evidence for their effectiveness in preventing the transmission of viruses. In addition, concern about mask use has focused on the fact that masks cannot eliminate respiratory infections and may even increase absenteeism, especially when they are poorly fitted or uncomfortable to wear.