Physicians implore area schools to require universal masking

Physicians Implore Area Schools To Require Universal Masking
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JOPLIN, Mo. – Area physicians say local school districts aren’t doing enough to protect children from COVID-19 when classes begin. They’re urging universal masking.

Health care leaders and physicians sent an open letter to 12 districts in southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas. The letter commended the effort by districts last year during the start of the pandemic but says schools should mandate universal masking and change quarantine policies this year.

Last year, several 4-state school districts mandated masks.

For the 2021-2022 school year, the Joplin school district passed a re-entry plan, making masks for students and staff voluntary at all district buildings. This is the same action several southwest Missouri area schools are taking. In Joplin’s re-entry plan this year, a student exposed to COVID-19 can return to school wearing a mask if they exhibit no symptoms, or five days later with a negative test without wearing a mask.

RelatedResources: Covid-related updates from 4-State schools

Freeman and Mercy doctors are urging school districts to consider universal masking for the upcoming school year.

“We agree with the guidance from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics that in-person learning is preferable to virtual options for schooling and feel it is imperative to achieve a full year of in-person education. However, COVID-19-related outbreaks will result in school closures and quarantines, disrupting in-person education,” states the open letter from doctors.

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Statistics

The letter from doctors to school districts continues, laying out information about the Delta variant and statistics from Mercy and Freeman.

“Our local and regional hospitals have been inundated with COVID-19 patients, including children. Currently, our ICU beds in the Joplin area are at greater than 90% occupancy, mostly of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. On August 16, 11 of the 52 new positive cases in Jasper County were in children under 19 years of age. This is
a strikingly high percentage of a preventable disease. Currently in Jasper County, 29.8% of the population has initiated vaccination. In the state of Missouri, the current initiation rate of vaccination for children ages 12 to 17 is 35.5%.”

“These numbers are far below the numbers needed for herd immunity in the population (vaccination rates around 70-80%), putting our children at risk. Furthermore, there are no pediatric ICU beds in Joplin for children younger than 18; children will need to be airlifted to Kansas City or Springfield for care.”

Universal Masking and other Preventative Measures

Doctors lay out two ways to protect from COVID-19 infection: Masks and vaccination.

Currently, health experts have only approved the vaccination for children over 12-years-old. Doctors in the open letter use this fact to push their point forward.

“Masks work to reduce the spread of disease. Masks are a simple and cheap, lifesaving protective equipment. Cloth masks have been shown to decrease transmission of respiratory droplets, the main way COVID-19 is transmitted, by 50-70%.”

In the letter, doctors pose the question, “With such a simple, cheap, safe and effective way to protect our children, why would we not choose to have universal masking?”

Recommended Policy

Freeman and Mercy doctors urge universal masking for Pre-K through grade 12 students, teachers, staff and visitors on the school campus. Their recommendation is regardless of vaccination status. This follows the recent CDC guidance.

Related: CDC changes course on indoor masks in some parts of the US

The open letter lays out the following recommended policy.

  • Universal masking for all indoor activities. Exemptions due to underlying medical conditions should be permitted with authorization from a licensed health care professional.
  • Mask policies are enforced according to the code of conduct and honor code.. The policies should be reviewed as updated data are available.
  • Also, current CDC guidelines state that if someone is in direct contact (less than six feet for more than 15 minutes and are unvaccinated) they should quarantine at home and may be released with a negative COVID test on day seven. This is contrary to the guidelines established by the Joplin School District, which allow the exposed student to return to school wearing a mask if they exhibit no symptoms, or five days later with a negative test without wearing a mask. We strongly urge you to follow CDC guidelines in this regard.

Universal Masking: Final Note

At the end of the open letter to area school districts, Freeman and Mercy doctors make a final plea for schools to mandate masks. “We understand that personal choice matters, but the boards have other policies that go against it to save lives including a “nut-free” policy that occurs at many schools. How is this any different?”

They note that without universal masking, school outbreaks are inevitable due to COVID-19. They say all aspects of school, including activities and sports, will “suffer.”

“We, the undersigned Joplin-area physicians, implore the Joplin-area school boards and superintendents to implement universal masking for the start of the upcoming   school year. We also offer to sit with your board on a periodic basis to re-evaluate the current data and need for masking protocols.”

Full Open Letter

They sent the open letter to several school boards: Joplin, Webb City, Carl Junction, Carthage, Joplin Area Catholic Schools System, College Heights,  Neosho, Seneca, Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School, Galena, McDonald County, and East Newton.

The letter was signed by physicians from Mercy Hospital, Freeman Hospital, Via Christi Hospital, several Joplin-area practices, and KCU Joplin.

You can read the full letter below, or, click here.

Letter from Mercy and Freeman doctors imploring schools to put a universal mask mandate in place

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