TOPEKA — Vernon Mills has a powerful message for school officials tired of fighting angry community members about the benefits of requiring students and staff to wear face coverings.
Speaking at a meeting of health care providers and school officials on Wednesday, the retired Leavenworth pediatrician said a withdrawal of mask mandates in schools would benefit those who spread lies about COVID-19 and health safety protocols.
“And the answer is, that’s stupid,” Mills said. ‘Well, I’ll call it that. It’s as stupid as you can get. To see that people are still dying, that many things are still happening everywhere. … You can see this hasn’t gone anywhere and won’t go anywhere until people really start vaccinating and doing better at the things they should be doing, like wearing a mask.”
Marci Nielsen, chief COVID-19 advisor to Governor Laura Kelly’s administration, told members of the Safer Classrooms Workgroup that there are 46 active outbreaks in Kansas schools, up from 54 a week ago. Schools requiring masks reported infections at a rate of 33 per 100,000 students. The infection rate was more than eight times higher in schools that don’t require masks – 269 per 100,000 students.
Randy Watson, Kansas Education Commissioner, described the conversations school leaders have with him. They tell him they need masks to prevent disease from spreading in their schools and their communities, but then no one else in the city or district wears a mask.
What’s the point for the community, they ask, if students wear masks for six hours at school, but not in restaurants, sporting events, concerts or other places?
Schools, Watson said, “get tired of the fight.”
“What I’m saying is you might start to see the masking rates go down, which isn’t a very effective strategy in schools for locking up a bunch of kids who don’t have to drop out of school and who clearly don’t have to be hospitalized.” and have serious complications,” Watson said.
Mills said it’s important to stay focused.
Members of the working group are expected to be the experts, those with the knowledge and experience to know what to do.
This isn’t easy, Mills said. It gets difficult.
“If we don’t stick with that line and protect what we know is right, the truth, and how to deal with it, then it just makes it easier for more people not to do what they should be doing. do,” said Mills. “So I understand fatigue, but I also understand that we have to do what’s right.”
It’s okay to feel pressured, Mills said. It’s okay to understand that other people aren’t happy.
You don’t get up and give a 9-month-old just because he doesn’t want to sleep at night, Mills said. You have to draw a line somewhere.
“We just have to tell the truth, keep telling the truth, keep telling the truth, and keep telling the truth until they get tired,” Mills said. “Because if we give up or give in, then the lie becomes the truth, or people believe what they want. That’s my point.”
Kimber Kasitz, director of health services for Wichita schools, pointed to the “drastic decline” in infections in her district after a mask mandate was introduced.
“I understand this is a little tired,” Kasitz said. “However, we all know that the science shows, the data shows, that it makes a difference in protecting others if you have a mask on.”
Wilson County health official Jennifer Bacani McKenney said people should view the pandemic as a chronic illness. We all want a quick fix, she said, but that’s not going to happen.
“No one promised us an easy pandemic, right?” said McKenney. “And no one promised us a quick one either. Our only hope is that it will come to an end, and you don’t know at the moment when that will be.”