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360: Debate returns over masks in schools as COVID-19 surges nationwide

As COVID-19 cases surge, CDC recommends universal indoor mask use
Posted at 6:01 AM, Jul 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-29 08:03:47-04

MILWAUKEE — While large, urban school districts in Milwaukee and Madison plan to continue mandating masks in school buildings at the start of the upcoming school year, others in Kenosha and Waukesha counties are leaving it up to parents.

So, we're going 360, seeking different perspectives on this topic. We talk to teachers and doctors urging school districts to follow the science and require masks, and to a local mom who shares how the school's decision could impact her child's future in the district. We also hear from a parent against mandatory masking as Florida's governor compares masks to muzzles. That's where we start.

360: Debate returns over masks in schools as COVID-19 surges nationwide

"I look forward to this coming year be a normal school year. Talk about imposing masks on kids - we're not doing that in Florida, OK," said Governor Ron Desantis, who says he won't require masks in his state, as Florida averages the highest number of new cases of any state right now, nearly doubling since last week.

America's summer surge, showing no signs of slowing down as new cases spread coast-to-coast. The CDC identifying nearly two-thirds of the nation's counties as areas of concern.

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"It’s disturbing really," said Dr. Gregory DeMuri, a professor of pediatrics with UW-health.

In Milwaukee County last week, there were 378 new cases of COVID-19 reported, up from 209 the week before. 82 of those were kids, up from 45 the week before - nearly double.

Dr. DeMuri says that's why students should mask up.

"If we send kids to school, less than 12 that are unvaccinated, they’re basically kindling and a spark that lands in that kindling can set a fire, mainly that’s an outbreak in this situation. Those outbreaks then infect other people," said DeMuri.

Just last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics made the recommendation that all students, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks when going back to school and earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reversed course and recommended that even vaccinated individuals should return to wearing masks indoors again when in COVID-19 hotspots.

Those recommendations come as children under the age of 12 remain ineligible to receive a vaccine.

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But, moms like Amy Richards say whether or not a child wears a mask to school should be up to the parents.

"I know that there’s bodies with big names, the CDC, what is it the AAP? I believe it is M-O-M and D-A-D that should be making these decisions," said Richards.

Richards has been a major part of an effort to influence the Kettle Moraine School District to make wearing masks optional.

"I have not seen anything that will sway my mind as a parent and I believe the response will be very strong if our district tried to reinstate any kind of mask requirements," said Richards.

Down in the Kenosha Unified School District, maks are optional. But, instead of being relieved, mother Lisa Guerrero is concerned.

"For me, I personally feel this should not be an option. Not yet," said Guerrero. "We don’t know what this Delta Variant is bringing and we don’t know what’s coming next."

She is now weighing her options for her child, who has special needs.

"My choices are to allow him to go to school and then be a contributing factor within the community of being able to spread this virus or keep him home and let him fail and I can honestly say I have not made my decision yet," she said.

This is all part of the reason why Tanya Kitts-Lewinski, president of the Kenosha Teachers Association, says so many educators want the school board to reconsider its optional mask policy.

"The spread is a huge concern," said Kitts-Lewinski.

She said although masks are uncomfortable, they would help protect students and staff and could help maintain in-person learning at the start of the school year. She calls optional masking a challenge.

"How do we know which students are vaccinated at this point? There are families that can’t vaccinate for various medical reasons, and then our huge amount of students under 12 (years old) with this new delta variant," she said.

It is important to note that the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are still a fraction of what they were before vaccines. But, the current outbreaks nationwide are still raising concerns for officials with so many Americans still unvaccinated.

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