Editorial was on Target
The editors’ comments about the Baker administration’s school masking policies are completely on target. As a pediatric infectious disease specialist who has cared for children hospitalized with COVID-19 pneumonia, Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome of Children, brain inflammation due to coronavirus, and children whose COVID-19 delayed lifesaving chemotherapy, I’m disturbed that our state is not following CDC guidelines for school masking.
The Baker administration’s “unpaid medical advisers” were apparently chosen for the convenience of their advice to Gov. Baker’s political priorities, not for its soundness or its basis in scientific evidence. Tying unmasking in schools to an 80% vaccination rate is a “rule” pulled out of thin air, without an evidence base of any kind. Plenty of evidence substantiates the effectiveness of masks (1, 2).
Gov. Baker again is apparently deciding pandemic policies with respect to how they affect his standing with the various parts of his base. This is why for the majority of the pandemic, we in Massachusetts had the third highest death rate in the country; only since the confluence of the delta variant surge this summer and the anti-vaccine and anti-mask policies of Southern Republican governors have states like Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Arizona risen to the top of this ignominious distinction list, so that we are now the seventh highest (3). In this case, Gov. Baker may have decided that appeasing the vociferous minority of parents who oppose school mask mandates would shore up his support among Republican primary voters. These voters might also be highly represented among the anti-mask demonstrators at the state house (5), as well as at the home of state Senator Becca Rausch because she supported mask mandates (6).
In addition to protecting the child who is masked in school, the mask mandate protects other students and adults in a school and its community, vaccinated or not, who may be at risk for severe COVID-19. As the CDC states, “Masks are primarily intended to reduce the emission of virus-laden droplets,” which is “especially relevant for asymptomatic or presymptomatic infected wearers who feel well and may be unaware of their infectiousness to others, and who are estimated to account for more than 50% of transmissions.” (7) A new study from Massachusetts General Hospital shows that asymptomatic infected children of every age carry at least as much infectious virus as adults (8).
Children can bring the coronavirus home to their families. Over 120,000 children in the United States have been orphaned by COVID-19 as of June 2021 (9,10). Among them, two- to threefold more are Native American, Black or Latino than White children (10). In our state, age-adjusted death rates of Latino and Black residents have been threefold higher than those of White residents (11) – even more shocking because worse than the terrible national average. Universal masking in schools is another way in which protecting all, protects those at highest risk.
Julia Koehler, MD
Supporting Mary Tamer for District 6
As a longtime educator in the Boston Public Schools – at both Boston Latin Academy and the West Roxbury Education Complex – I understand how much our families depend on a high quality education. But I also understand the persistent challenges that remain within BPS: deep inequities in access to high quality schools, persistent opportunity and achievement gaps, inconsistent engagement with families, and crumbling buildings following decades of underinvestment.
I endorse Mary Tamer in the District 6 City Council race because she understands this, too, and will do everything she can as a member of the City Council to press for urgent action on behalf of families in Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury, and the surrounding neighborhoods.
As a former School Committee member herself, and someone who has dedicated most of her professional life to advocating for strong public schools, Mary brings the leadership, vision, and experience to represent our neighborhoods and address the challenges our city is facing – especially in our public schools.
Having just run in the District 6 preliminary election, I know that Mary and I share the same commitment to Boston’s children, and to actively working with families and organizations in our community to improve our schools.