Opinion: School mask mandates are crucial to public health


Ellanor Splinter

EHS students must wear masks in order to maintain public health and safety

Hannah Owens Pierre, section editor

The Edina Public Schools District is supposed to have a universal mask policy, but you wouldn’t believe it if you walked down the hallways of Edina High School during passing time. 

Wearing masks improperly has become the recent trend of teenage rebellion. No fewer than 15 students can be spotted at any given moment with masks hanging below their noses, often traveling in large groups. Teachers and staff are repeatedly telling students to pull up masks, only to be ignored or dismissed. The EHS Sadie’s Dance was recently canceled (though later reinstated) in large part because kids are failing to take COVID seriously. 

And yet, at a time when nearly half of the student population hasn’t even figured out how to wear a mask properly, Edina is facing record calls to abandon its mandatory school masking policy. Some individuals suggest that masking is no longer necessary with vaccines now available for almost all students. But the science is clear: Edina’s school mask mandate is as necessary now as it ever will be. To get rid of it would not only be irresponsible, but highly dangerous. 

The Centers for Disease Control Prevention released a statement just four days ago urging schools to continue with policies of universal masking for all staff and students, regardless of community transmission or vaccination rates, noting that masks are especially imperative as we head into the winter months. Experts have begun to raise fears of a winter surge in COVID rates, starting around Thanksgiving. In Minnesota, it seems as though that surge is already here. Minnesota is currently leading the country in COVID infection rates and enduring a year-long high in hospitalization

In Edina, things aren’t fairing much better. Four Edina schools—Concord Elementary, Creek Valley Elementary, Our Lady of Grace, and South View Middle—are on the Minnesota Department of Health’s list for recent school COVID outbreaks. And with winter breaks approaching, more people will travel and bring exposures back to Edina. 

That’s not to mention the danger posed by the highly contagious Delta variant. Only a few months after it was discovered, the Delta variant is now found in over 99% of COVID infections across the country. The Delta variant is more than two times more contagious than previous strains and causes more severe side effects.

One of the most common arguments against Edina’s universal masking policy concerns the supposed lack of risk for COVID teenagers face. While it is true that young people are less likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID, we are only now beginning to study the long-term side effects of infection in children and young adults. Furthermore, teenagers who are infected with COVID can easily spread it to more vulnerable people, especially when they don’t take the pandemic seriously. Many Edina students, such as myself, live with a grandparent. I, as I assume is the case with everyone else, don’t want to see my grandma die because someone at my school didn’t take wearing a mask seriously enough. 

Others suggest that masks are simply too annoying to continue wearing in school. It’s true, wearing a mask can be bothersome at times. Paying attention in a class is more difficult when the voice of the speaker is muffled. Still, the real harm of masks is exaggerated to the point of absurdity. Wearing a piece of cloth over one’s face is not the oppression some make it out to be. Besides, those who truly despise masks should be the ones most keen on wearing them properly. For we will only see the end of masks once we fail to see pandemic surges which are driven, in large part, by those who fail to take masking seriously

With these frightening hurdles ahead, it is necessary that Edina schools take current scientific data seriously and do everything to prepare for future outbreaks. Studies on mask mandates find that schools with universal masking policies face significantly fewer COVID cases than those that don’t. That figure comes with a caveat, however: Masks must be worn properly in order for them to work. It’s not enough for Edina to simply proclaim a mask mandate. Our current rules need to be enforced if we hope to see a day when masks are no longer necessary.