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Upstate Medical Pediatricians, Public Health Experts Call On CNY School District Leaders To Adopt Universal Masking Policies

WAER file photo 2020

Pediatricians and other experts from Upstate Medical University are calling on the region’s school district superintendents to implement a universal masking policy to protect children and staff from COVID-19 and the highly contagious Delta variant.  The recommendation comes as states and communities elsewhere in the country resist mask requirements at schools despite surging infections. 

Thankfully, COVID rates in Central New York are far lower than say in the south, and vaccination rates are higher. But physicians say we can’t let our guard down. Pediatrician Dr. Steven Blatt says they wanted to tailor their message to school leaders who need the latest scientific and medical knowledge to make the best decisions.

"We thought it would be helpful to give them not just the latest and most accurate recommendations, but also to give them recommendations that come from local experts in the community in which these children live."

Blatt says masking is essential because the vaccine is not available yet to virtually all elementary-age school kids, and that vaccination rates of children 12 and older are not as high as they should be. He says districts have an obligation to make sure students are safe in every way possible.

"Children are going to be in school 8 hours a day. To send children to school in an environment with COVID where people are not masking, and there are lots of people who have not had the vaccine, especially the younger ages, that's an incredibly unsafe situation. That's not allowable."

Blatt says his office has seen kids infected with COVID, and there are some in the hospital. But it’s not like the surge of illness seen in the south, which is what they want to avoid. Upstate Professor and Chair of Public Health and Preventive Medicine Dr. Christopher Morley knows the changing recommendations about masks and other measures might be confusing. But he says science is not stagnant.

"Science evolves as we learn new information, as we have new samples. As the thing that we're studying changes, we have to change our recommendations. I would urge people to consider that if you heard something different in previous months than you're hearing now, that's not science failing. That's science working. That's science not just correcting itself or fixing a mistake, it's updating its information."

So, he says, that’s why they’re pushing their message about universal masking to school leaders.

"There's no agenda other than keeping people healthy, safe, and keeping our community functioning. We spoke out because it's what we know in our professional capacities and our training to be good our community."

The Syracuse Board of Education passed a resolution late Wednesday requiring all non-union employees submit proof of COVID vaccination or submit to weekly testing. Superintendent Jaime Alicea and his staff will be negotiating with collective bargaining units with the goal of doing the same for those employees, which includes most teachers and staff. But there’s no mention of a mask policy.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at