Westford needs to instate a mask mandate for schools


Pravar Mukkala

Top: disposable mask Bottom: cloth mask

After eighteen months of school being affected by COVID-19, everyone is ready to go back to normal. However, the pandemic is far from being over. The Delta variant, which is the highly contagious variant of the virus that swept through India, is responsible for most of the new cases in the United States and around the world. It doesn’t help that people are abandoning wearing masks.

Aug. 16’s school committee meeting’s public comment saw many people express their views on masks, most of them negative. People claimed that their children could barely breathe when they wore masks, that masks cause fungal infections, and that only they could be the ones to decide they wanted to wear a mask because it was their body and their choice.

These aren’t valid reasons to neglect saving lives.

Masks limit exposure to air particles and droplets in the air. When you wear a mask, any droplets or particles that may come out of your mouth when you speak, cough, or sneeze have less of a chance of being spread around. This reduces the risk of spreading the virus, especially with elementary school students.

I’ve heard many people complain that they couldn’t breathe while wearing a mask. If this is the case, wearing looser fitting disposable masks would help. Additionally, breathing through the nose reduces humidity inside masks. Masks have not been shown to pose a threat to anyone’s health. Healthcare providers have worn medical masks for years for their jobs without any harmful side effects.

Masks are not responsible for fungal or bacterial growth, as the only thing that should touch the inside of your mask is your face and the air you breathe out. Healthy people don’t breathe out fungus.

Lastly, if people don’t wear masks, it’s not their own business. It’s mine, and yours, and everyone else’s as well. As a community, we are responsible for keeping each other, especially children, safe. If students don’t wear masks at school, then even just one infected student could spread the virus around, first to their classmates and teacher, who would pass the virus to other students and other faculty members. Soon after, students’ siblings and family members will be carrying the virus, spreading it to other schools, workspaces, and stores. All of this would end in a lockdown for the town and a school shutdown, reducing the ability for students to actually learn and go to school.

In Georgia, South Carolina (also see here), and Florida, whose school years start earlier than ours in the north, entire school districts have shut down less than two weeks after opening due to no rules about masking and a less vaccinated population. More shutdowns means less days for learning, and more infections means more chances of students, teachers, parents, or other family members becoming hospitalized or even dying.

This graphic shows how COVID-19 spreads with and without masks. Masks block airborne particles, including respiratory particles from an infected person, from coming into contact with the face. (Pravar Mukkala)

In addition to this, this school year does not include remote learning, which means there is no alternative to students and teachers who are not comfortable being around hundreds of unmasked people. If the school system shuts down, remote learning could be offered as an alternative, but that is sadly not an option this year either.

Mask-wearing in school should be required because elementary– and some middle school–aged students cannot be vaccinated. If the coronavirus spreads around schools, students can bring the virus home to their family members. All of our efforts to mitigate the pandemic will go to waste when entire families are infected. Yes, children aren’t affected much by the virus in the short-term, but does anyone want to risk putting someone on a ventilator just so that they don’t have to wear a mask? And we don’t even know the long-term effects clearly yet.

Additionally, if some people show up to school with masks while the majority is not masked, the students who are wearing masks for the safety of their own peers and family members could be subject to bullying. Some students might be teased for wearing masks, hurting their mental and physical healths. Even teachers are subject to this kind of harassment—here is what happened in Texas. Teachers may be harassed, bullied, or assaulted because of their own choice to protect themselves and everyone around them by wearing masks. If everyone wears a mask, this kind of harassment shown towards both students and teachers will stop.

People are incorrectly using data from last year to support not wearing masks. Last year’s data is structured around students wearing masks. This is one of the few reasons why Westford has consistently reported low numbers of cases. Lack of awareness about masks will very quickly make Westford’s school system shut down if the school year starts without a mask mandate.

The prominence of the Delta variant has started a third wave in infections in the southern United States. If we do not keep up the level of diligence we’ve had for so long, that third wave will reach us as well.

Masks do not completely, 100% stop the flow of COVID-19. Neither do vaccines, for that matter, or hand-washing or social distancing or hand sanitizing. But they are all a step closer to getting out of this pandemic. I hope we can all take that step together.

I call on the Westford School Committee to mandate masks for this school year. I call on every Westford parent and parents from other towns to send your students to school wearing masks. I call on all students to wear masks at school and everywhere you go.

We’ve been patient for eighteen months. Let’s be patient for a few more so that we can go back to normal by being responsible citizens.