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Carroll County school board’s mask decision endangering community; remembering Mt. Airy Mayor Pat Rockinberg | READER COMMENTARY

School board’s mask decision endangering community

I am one of the parents who has chosen to keep their children out of the Carroll County Public Schools due to the Board of Education’s mask-optional decision. The most recent vote to delay the state’s mandatory mask policy until the General Assembly committee votes is ill-informed and not aligned with protecting the health of those who serve and learn in CCPS.

As an public health researcher and health policy researcher, I know something about disease mitigation, and I’m here to tell you that the BOE’s decisions — contrary to the local, state and federal guidance — imperil the students, faculty and staff in CCPS facilities.

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There is overwhelming evidence that masks, while imperfect, are an important tool to limit the spread of COVID-19. Masks work best to contain the virus from being spread by the infected. Masks are less effective at preventing noninfected people from contracting the disease. I have heard the argument that this is about personal decisions and individual responsibility, but that argument misses at least two important points: Firstly, a person’s decision to not wear a mask puts others in their environment at risk (see the ample research on source control) and, secondly, pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic people can spread the disease unknowingly.

Given the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and death that is being driven, in part, by the more contagious delta variant, the BOE needs to quickly adopt a mandatory mask policy. Their recent decisions needlessly endanger those in the CCPS community, especially the students younger than 12 who cannot access the COVID-19 vaccines.

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A growing body of data suggest that children are contracting COVID-19 at record rates and cases are more severe with the delta variant. Additionally, we are still learning about COVID-19 in children, who despite popular belief, are not escaping this disease unscathed. For instance, we still do not understand the scope and long-term effects of multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which can appear weeks and months after infection even in previously asymptomatic COVID-19 infected children.

In the face of increasing cases and the continued evolution of this disease and our understanding of long-term effects, the local BOE needs to follow the guidance and institute a mandatory mask policy to decrease the amount of circulating virus in closed environments with a largely unvaccinated population. Not doing so, by definition, increases the risk of outbreaks and school closures.

I have heard BOE members indicate that Carroll County is different, but the data no longer support their argument. Carroll County is now categorized as high transmission by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the Carroll County Health Department, at the end of August there were 15 children (ages 0-17) hospitalized with COVID-19. These numbers will likely increase, and dramatically so, if the BOE does not quickly change course. Some of the damage will already be done based on the reopening of schools with masks optional this week, so the BOE cannot delay even another day.

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The BOE is not equipped to make effective health policy. They should listen to the public health officials at all levels who have urged mask requirements in schools. They should immediately institute the state’s decision to make masks mandatory in all schools. Failure to do so will have disastrous effects that the BOE as well as the community at large (clinicians, families, etc.) will have to live with.

Dr. Dan Andersen, Sykesville

The writers has graduate and postgraduate training in epidemiology and public health. He is a health care consultant, health policy researcher and adjunct faculty at McDaniel College.

Sleep well our tired friend

Farewell letter to our neighbor and friend of 22 years, Mt. Airy Mayor Pat Rockinberg, who died Aug 29:

There was never time to rest. There was always a meeting to attend, a committee to oversee, a text to return, an email to write, a citizen to visit and a race to run. There was always a conference to travel to, a friend to visit, a dinner guest to meet and a letter to finish.

As you grew weak with cancer, you never slowed in your devotion to our little piece of heaven. When we saw just a month ago, you told us you were so tired, yet you still walked in the light believing you would beat the cancer ravaging your body.

We are all just human, our days are all numbered, and our time in this world is short. Your life was not measured by the number of years you lived, but by the number of lives you touched in your all too brief 58 years. If there was a Guinness record for number of lives touched, it would be yours. If the quality of your life is measured by the number of loved ones you leave behind, then you are one of most successful people to have ever lived.

As hard as you tried to keep fighting, in the end you returned to the dust of which you were created and your spirit returned home. Ecclesiastes 12:17 says “And the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the life breath returns to God who gave it.” You have left this world, but you will live on in the memories of those you touched.

You loved your daughter like no father ever has. You will always be with her, guiding her to be the best she can be.

Your years of service to this town are complete. Your life mission is fulfilled. You are now whole again, free of pain and fatigue. You have earned your rest.

We will all meet you again some day.

Until that moment, sleep well our tired friend.

John and Cathy Grillo, Mt. Airy

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