Are masks really working in schools

By Sahar Chmais
In Hays CISD, where masks are not mandated, 2.6% of students and staff were infected with COVID three weeks into the school year. In Austin ISD, where masks are mandated, that number is 0.8%.
Dripping Springs ISD, also without a mask mandate, has a similar statistic to HCISD, with 2.4% of students and staff having been infected with COVID-19.

Data presented as of Monday, Sept. 13.

Some parents have pulled their students from school until they feel it is safer for their children to return. Amy Grant of Buda made this decision, though it has been difficult for her family.

As a single mother operating a business, Grant said she desperately wants her daughter back in elementary school. She just cannot send her back when there are very limited safety protocols in place, as Grant suffers health issues that affect her autoimmune system.
To combat mask choice, a grassroots group of 736 members, Families United for Student Safety (FUSS), began campaigning to mandate masks in HCISD. More than a week ago, these parents created a petition around the cause. So far, the petition has 911 signatures.
Grant, a FUSS administrator, said one of the main concerns are the kids who cannot wear masks for medical reasons. The kids who can, should wear masks, to protect the most vulnerable populations, she explained.
Due to a rise in cases, HCISD sent a letter to elementary school parents notifying them that they will create a mask encouragement program. If parents do not want their children subjected to these teachings, they must fill out a form notifying them of the decision.
COVID cases have contributed to the closure of 18 HCISD classrooms. DSISD reports that it has not closed any classrooms as of Tuesday. There are 15 pediatric COVID-19 patients in Trauma Service Area O (TSA-O) which serves 11 counties, including Hays and Travis.
There are three pediatric ICU beds available and eight adult ICU beds available in TSA-O. The number of adult hospitalizations due to COVID-19 is much higher than children’s, with 526 adult COVID-19 patients in general beds and 246 adult COVID-19 patients in ICU.
In Texas, 10 children under the age of 1 died from COVID-19, 16 died between the ages of 1 and 9, and 48 died between the ages of 10 and 19.
“I’m not sure how many kids need to die – one is too many for me,” Grant said. “I can’t understand how one kid does not matter. Some kids won’t wake up and be okay tomorrow. Even if one kid dies from our negligence, isn’t that too many?”
Even with COVID-19 hospitalization rates being lower in children than adults, parents are experiencing difficulties due to the virus. Earlier this year, 15-year-old Hays High cheerleader Katelynn Ramirez was hospitalized because of the virus. After discharge, it took her months to resume her normal lifestyle.
One Hays County mother posted on Facebook that she is worried about her son’s health who is too young to receive the vaccine. The boy tested positive for COVID-19 and is running a fever of 103.5 degree, according to the mother.
In another case, a middle school boy with a chronic health condition relapsed. Under normal circumstances, he would go to Dell Children’s hospital for treatment, but his doctor advised the family not to go.
“Because of the state of our system right now,” said the Hays County mother who wishes to remain anonymous, “our doctor said ‘absolutely do not take him to the hospital.’ So, we will be managing his treatment from home, which is not our choice – it is a choice being made for us because the lack of precautions being practiced to mitigate the current COVID spike.”
While the child’s doctor advised the parents to continue treatment from home, Dell Children’s Hospital said that they have sufficient capacity and staff to continue caring for pediatric patients with a variety of medical needs.
The hospital is urging the community to get vaccinated to lessen the burden on frontline workers who have been fighting this virus. Children ages 12 and older are able to get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

 

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Sahar Chmais holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She has been covering cities in Hays County for one year, touching on residents' struggles and successes, city issues, COVID-19 and more. Prior to reporting on the local spectrum, Sahar reported for a national news organization, covering gun violence. Sahar enjoys working as a local reporter because she gets to work with real people and their stories.

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