Gov. John Carney said Tuesday that masks must be worn in all public, private and parochial schools, as well as childcare homes and centers for those over the age of 2..
Carney also said state employees and visitors to state facilities must wear masks indoors beginning Monday, Aug. 16. This requirement applies to everybody, regardless of their vaccination status.
The moves are to try to curtail the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, which is causing a rapid rise in new cases and hospitalizations in the last six weeks.
Additional requirements around vaccination and testing for state employees and others are expected to be announced in the coming days.
The announcement drew immediate reaction from those opposed to vaccines and masks.
“The governor’s requirement that students wear masks in public and private schools is shortsighted and misguided and fails to consider the negative physical and emotional impact being required to wear a mask has had on students throughout our state and this country,” said M. Jane Brady, chairwoman of the Republican Party of Delaware. “The decision should be made at the local school board level, where parents can have direct input into the decision.”
Brady said that instead of mandating face coverings for students, faculty and staff should be vaccinated or tested regularly.
“Parents are not opposed to wearing masks in schools because they don’t care about the safety of their children,” she said in a statement. “They are opposed because they’ve seen directly and daily the impact wearing a mask has had on their child.”
Carney’s move follows two weeks of changes after the Centers for Disease Control announced that everyone, even the vaccinated, should wear masks indoors because Delta was a more infectious form of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Last week, state health officials endorsed that recommendation.
Prior to Carney’s announcement Tuesday, the decision to require masks was left to local school districts. Many were still deliberating, while one district, Christina, announced that they would be requiring masks indoors pursuant to CDC guidance.
The mandate will apply inside of all school buildings, including while playing indoor sports.
“There’s no higher priority than getting all Delaware children back in their classrooms full-time this fall,” Carney said in the press release. “This consistent, statewide approach will help students, educators and staff return to school safely and without disruption.”
Advocacy group First State Educate agreed with him, saying public health groups should dictate the decision as to whether masks are required in schools.
“Learning has to be in person this year. Everyone benefits from it,” said Laurisa Schutt, executive director of First State Educate. “The science behind the mask mandate is what we value. We commend the governor for his decision and for making schools safe for our teaching and learning environment.”
Some parents have been working to oppose masks in schools for weeks.
Danielle Dixon, a Milford parent, began a Change.org petition to urge the Milford School District to allow optional masking. Tuesday morning, the petition had received 546 signatures.
“Masks were not worn at senior award, board member or teacher appreciation ceremonies over the last few months, but they are requiring them for students during summer school,” Dixon wrote in the petition’s description. Efforts were unsuccessful Tuesday morning to reach her for comment.
Dixon cited new studies which she says show masks are physically, psychologically and behaviorally harmful to school-aged children.
A June 2021 New York Times study, “Kids, Covid and Delta” by David Leonhardt, found that COVID-19 continues to be extremely rare in children. It said that when compared against succumbing from COVID-19, children 5-14 years old are 9.5 times more likely to die in a vehicle accident, 7.5 times more likely to commit suicide, 3.5 times more likely to be murdered, and 2.5 times more likely to drown.
“The biggest risk to your child’s health today almost certainly is not COVID,” the report said. “It’s more likely to be an activity that you have long decided is acceptable — like swimming, riding a bicycle or traveling in a car.”
Carney has said that he doesn’t know how many of Delaware’s new positive cases or hospitalizations cases are children.
State Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro, on Tuesday issued an editorial that said Carney’s policies are hurting Delaware’s kids and decisions should be left at a local level.
“Children are at little risk from suffering any severe consequences from COVID-19,” he said. “This is not a cavalier overstatement. It is a fact. Of the 1,835 instances where deaths in Delaware could be connected to COVID-19, only one involved a school-aged child (age 5 through 17). ”
Collins notes that Seth Pollak, head of the Child Emotion Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, noted in a recently published column: “There are a lot of things that are really important for human communication. And human faces are definitely one of the most important of them.”
“Throughout the pandemic, the state has continued to lurch from one bad decision to another, often using questionable suppositions to support its choices,” Collins said. “Small businesses were forced to close, while big box corporate retailers remained open. Hospitals were coerced to suspend life-saving screening, testing and other procedures to keep beds open for COVID patients that never arrived. Distance learning protocols were employed where teachers could not track student participation or even attendance.
“With this track record, why should we continue to have faith in executive branch decision-makers?”
Carney’s announcement will be formalized later in the week.
As of Monday, 73.7 percent of Delaware adults, and 71.6 percent of those 12 and older, have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. Children under the age of 12 cannot be vaccinated against COVID-19 now.
Also as of Monday, the number of new cases had risen to 186 a day, averaged over seven days. Hospitalizations were up to 101, with eight critical. On June 25, the low point in recent months, new cases were 20 a day and hospitalizations were at 32.
As part of the move Tuesday, Carney extended the Public Health Emergency that he instituted on July 13 that authorized the Division of Public Health to direct COVID-19 vaccination, treatment and mitigation measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. It also allows the Delaware National Guard to provide support under the direction of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency and Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
As with the original COVID-19 order, which Carney allowed to lapse on July 13, this order must be renewed every 30 days to stay in effect.
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