Many states in the United States are abandoning the obligation to wear masks in public schools, given the improvement of the health situation in the country, but the measure is questioned by parents who ask for collective responsibility in the face of covid-19. Virginia, a state neighboring the capital that fell into Republican hands last November but retains a strong Democratic minority, crystallizes the national confrontation over the use of masks when the wave of the ómicron variant recedes.
For Carrie Lukas, a mother of five children ages seven to 16 attending school in Fairfax County, districts that opposed the decree “don’t put children first,” who have paid a heavy price since the beginning of the pandemic. The youngest has suffered “a huge loss as far as it relates” after practically a school year online, and the mask weighs on the socialization of teenagers, who “can’t see if someone smiles at them or grimaces at them,” said the worried mother.
President of the Forum of Independent Women, a conservative organization, Lukas assures that “an avalanche of research shows that masks do not work” to curb pollution in schools while children and adolescents are the “least vulnerable to covid-19”. A study by health authorities dating back to September 2021 concluded that the risks of infection were 3.5 times higher in schools where the mask was not mandatory. But these results are questioned, even by non-conservative media.
Carrie Lukas claims a “calculated risk” in the face of the virus: “We all know there are risks, but we allow free people to make their own decisions.” For other parents, however, collective responsibility must prevail. “When the choice of an individual affects another person’s health, individual freedom ends,” substitute teacher Amber Bowmer, 42, told AFP. Along with 12 other parents of students from Chesapeake, in the east of the state, Bower complained to the Virginia Supreme Court that the governor had “exceeded” his prerogatives.
Mother of two children aged eleven and 14, she says she is “very at risk” because she has been suffering from covid for a long time, which she contracted at the beginning of the pandemic. “I have a severe form of asthma and any respiratory infection is very dangerous for me,” he explains.
Carrie Lukas and Amber Bowmer lament that mask-wearing has become a political issue in the country most mourned by the pandemic, with more than 900,000 deaths. The pandemic has been “politicized at the expense of human life,” says Amber Bowmer. Virginia has also banned its universities from preventing unvaccinated students from accessing campuses. Carrie Lukas criticizes Fairfax County school officials for “refusing to obey the decree of a governor they do not support.”
The states of Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, California and Oregon announced their intention to relax the mandates to wear masks in schools and other enclosed spaces in the coming weeks, as the recent wave of Covid-19 infections with the ómicron variant begins to subside in the United States. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday that the requirement to wear face masks in schools and daycare centers will expire on March 7, noting the decision as “a big step toward normalcy” for children.
In New York, which was the epicenter of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, authorities have yet to announce any plans to make masks mandatory. In Canada, the province of Saskatchewan announced the lifting of all Covid-19-related restrictions, including mask-wearing and the requirement for vaccination inside restaurants, while truckers continue to occupy Ottawa.
Anti-vaccine groups that have been protesting for days against the measures applied by Covid-19 have blocked the main border crossing between Canada and the United States. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that it is “tragic” the balance of half a million deaths from the disease, after the appearance of the ómicron variant, despite vaccination.