The naked and the masked


With COVID on the wane, last week everyone in Wakefield was finally liberated from the imperative to cover their faces. Everyone, that is, except those least at risk from the virus: school children. That’s what’s known as “following the science.”

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) lifted the state’s indoor mask mandate last week, and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has said that masks no longer need to be worn in public schools as of Feb. 28. When two of the most alarmist state agencies are saying masks can go, you know that everybody is done.

Everybody, that is, except certain overwrought local officials, who can’t seem to let it go.
Last August, in reaction to a summer COVID spike, the Town Council voted to impose a mask mandate in all local public buildings under its jurisdiction. But at their meeting last week, the Town Council couldn’t bring itself to lift its own mandate, opting to let the Board of Health make the call for them.

As one Town Councilor put it, the Health Department “has three nurse practitioners and a PhD in public health. We are not health professionals.”

So, for the record, enacting a mask mandate does not require the permission of three nurse practitioners and a PhD, but rescinding one does.

When it comes to pretzel logic, however, few can hold a candle to the Wakefield School Committee.

During public participation at last week’s meeting, at least nine parents spoke passionately in favor of lifting the school mask mandate on Feb. 28, if not sooner. Zero parents spoke in favor of keeping students masked in school.

But when Wakefield Health Director Anthony Chui joined the Zoom meeting, he recommended extending the school mask mandate until March 21. Chui cited the need for a “buffer” due to an expected surge in COVID cases after February school vacation. Apparently, when temporarily released from the watchful eye of the schools, some families have a tendency to go off and do fun things with other families. Because of this reckless behavior, all children should be masked for another month, Chui advised.

After listening to Chui’s recommendation, the School Committee proceeded to drag out the discussion as only they can do, until Ami Wall made a motion to end the school mask mandate on Feb. 28, in accordance with the recommendations of the DPH and DESE. Wall’s motion failed 5-2, with only Wall and Amy Leeman in favor of ending the mask mandate sooner rather than later.

Wall noted that throughout the pandemic, any “guidance” from DESE or the DPH was received as gospel and had to be followed to the letter. Why then, she wondered, was it suddenly different when these agencies agreed that masks are no longer necessary? I have another question. What “science” does the Wakefield School Committee possess that the DPH, DESE and countless surrounding communities and school districts are missing?

At one point, Chairman Suzy Veilleux mentioned that she was surprised to hear that some local families were afraid that the School Committee would just keep extending the mask requirement.

“I was not aware that feeling was out there,” she said.

Somebody needs to get out more.

After still more discussion, School Committee member Tom Markham made a motion to continue the school mask mandate until March 9. That, Markham said, would allow for the analysis of home testing data from Monday, Feb. 28 and March 7.

But regardless of the data, the March 9 end date will be firm, Veilleux announced as the School Committee voted 4-3 to extend the mandate.

“This has got to be it,” Veilleux insisted. “We can’t change it again.”

Cut to the Board of Health, which met last Wednesday, Feb. 16. As expected, they voted to withdraw their mask mandate for all indoor public spaces (except schools, of course). But even they couldn’t quite bring themselves to go cold turkey. They wanted one more day so they could put out “messaging” and do some “positive education.”

I’m pretty sure that ending the mandate and putting out the “messaging” simultaneously would have worked out just fine. People could have figured it out.

The public is done with COVID restrictions and they’re losing patience with local boards and their inconsistent and contradictory rulings. Town officials who still find themselves tempted to tinker around the edges and slip in policies such as requiring the unvaccinated to continue masking should take note.

It ain’t gonna fly. Not anymore.

[This column originally appeared in the February 24, 2022 Wakefield Daily Item.]

3 Responses to “The naked and the masked”

  1. 1 Robin Roberto Horgan

    Chui is right. Having gone this long, what’s a couple of more weeks? There is always a surge after a holiday break. And how do we know which children are vulnerable to MIS-C, which can show up weeks after a seemingly mild infection? That’s what doctors across the country are concerned about at this moment in time.

  2. 2 John Breithaupt

    The current (Feb. 03, 2022) statement by the Mayo Clinic on children and covid includes the following:

    ‘’Currently, children represent about 18% of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and cases are on the rise. More than 5.6 million child cases have been reported since early September 2021.

    ‘’While children are as likely to get COVID-19 as adults, kids are less likely to become severely ill. Up to 50% of children and adolescents might have COVID-19 with no symptoms. However, some children with COVID-19 need to be hospitalized, treated in the intensive care unit or placed on a ventilator to help them breathe.’’

    Of special concern is the finding that half of children who become infected with covid do not exhibit symptoms. They can bring the disease home and infect their families before any one knows it.

    Here in Massachusetts, we’ve done a good job fighting covid. We may be close to the end of the fight, too. But we haven’t won the yet.

  3. 3 Jack

    Well said Mark 👏

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