AUSTIN, Texas — Stephanie Elizalde is the superintendent of the Austin Independent School District. It’s the largest district in Austin, Texas.
“One day, we will look back, and there will be silver linings," Elizalde said. "Right now, sometimes it's a little hard to find those as we're in the middle of yet another concerning period of time.”
Elizalde says this year, they are determined to have in-person learning.
“We want it to look more like a typical face-to-face school day, and we want to layer on all of the protections that we can for our students, especially during the time that we have yet to have vaccines available for our most youngest learners.”
Last year, the district was able to require everyone to wear a mask at school. However, this year, an executive order from the governor prohibits government entities — including counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities, or government officials — from mandating mask-wearing.
According to Burbio, a company that aggregates school and community data nationwide, Texas is one of eight states currently preventing school districts from mandating masks.
A statement from Governor Greg Abbott's office says, “...now is the time for personal responsibility. Every Texan has the right to choose whether they will wear a mask or have their children wear masks. Vaccines are the most effective defense against contracting COVID and becoming seriously ill, and we continue to urge all eligible Texans to get the vaccine.”
Dr. Joshua Schaffzin is the Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
“Our recommendation is that everybody mask while at school," Dr. Schaffzin said. "This includes all students as well as all teachers and staff.”
Dr. Schaffzin says it’s important even for vaccinated people to wear masks because they still see breakthrough infections, which can put kids who haven’t been vaccinated at risk. He also thinks adults wearing masks will encourage kids to do the same.
“Our teachers are our role models for our children," Dr. Schaffzin said. "They demonstrate proper behavior, proper manners, proper practice. They teach how to live and how to grow, and teachers ought to be demonstrating to children that the safest way to be at school is to be masking.”
Dr. Schaffzin says there is scientific evidence through population-based studies that prove the effectiveness of masks.
“Early on, there was a hair salon in Missouri, and there were two stylists and about 140 clients. And the stylists were both symptomatic, they both had coughs and were sick but wore masks, and everybody was required to wear a mask. When CDC went in and interviewed, out of 140, 68 people agreed to be interviewed, and not one of them became infected.”
He says additional studies showed a decrease in cases doubled when masking was introduced. In the COVID bundle of protection, Dr. Schaffzin says masking, distancing, hand hygiene, cleaning, vaccination, and good ventilation all contribute to the prevention of the disease.
Even though she can’t mandate it, Elizalde says she hopes students and staff will still choose to wear masks.
“Prior to vaccines, utilizing the mask was very successful, so we want to encourage, really strongly encourage all of our staff and all of our students to return to the fact that masking really can be a heroic act because it not only protects you, but it also protects those around you," Elizalde said.
“It’s not expensive, it’s not difficult, and we’ll do what we’ve been trying to do all along, which is save lives,” Dr. Schaffzin said.