To the editor: The Fairbanks North Star Borough should reverse its recent decision to end the mask requirement in schools. Since the last school board meeting on Dec. 7, we have seen the Omicron variant surge across the country. The average number of daily US Covid-19 cases on Tuesday reached 265,427, a new all-time pandemic high, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The local Covid-19 numbers have been trending downward, but still remains in the “high” range. We can reasonably assume that with all the visiting that is occurring over the holidays, these numbers will rise again.
The Omicron variant is affecting children more than previous variants. Nationwide, an average of 305 children were fighting Covid-19 in a hospital on any given day during the most recent week, according to the CDC. That’s a 48% increase from the previous week and only 11% lower than the peak average in August and September.
We now have confirmation that Omicron is much more transmissible than previous variants. Without masking, a single Omicron case in a classroom could easily infect the entire class, resulting in lost class time and widespread family disruption.
Masks do not cause any significant adverse effects, and students seem to have made the adjustment. A mask requirement is a small price to pay for the tremendous benefits it confers. The only way to insure these benefits is with a district-wide mask requirement. An “individual choice” policy regarding masks does not provide these benefits. Many students would not wear their mask without a requirement, and Covid-19 is airborne.
The emergence of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant makes our public health environment highly volatile. For this reason, masking policy should be on the official agenda at every school board meeting so that the school board can quickly respond to changing Covid-19 conditions. Two weeks between meetings is an eternity in a deadly pandemic.
All students deserve a safe environment. Our school board can promote student health and safety by requiring masks in all schools. What could be more important than that?
David E. Frey,