Editorial: Schools need mask mandates

We’ve seen an undeniable uptick in COVID cases since the removal of mask mandates. With the executive order restricting mandates overturned, the time to act is now.



Sophomores Tyler Hollan, Nick Boddle and Brady Warner look at pictures on their phone as fifth period comes to a close on Aug. 11. Students have the option this year of whether to wear a mask.

It’s been 18 months since schools were shut down on the brink of Spring Break in 2020 following the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, we’ve gradually worked to move back toward the life we had before. We attempted virtual classes. We brought students, first partially but now fully, back into classrooms. We even stopped requiring face masks on campus. But at what cost?

In a community where everyone has access to the vaccine, there should be no reason to enforce a mask mandate. If people have been given the option to get the vaccine and have made the choice not to, it is not the responsibility of vaccinated people to continue to adapt their lives. One is not responsible for the protection of another after that person chooses not to take action to protect themselves.

However, around half of Pinellas County students don’t have the option to be vaccinated. With children under the age of 12 being unable to receive a vaccine, they are left with no safe alternative. The option of live virtual teaching has been stripped, forcing most students to sit in rooms of about 20 other people who also have not been given the option of a vaccine. Any student there not wearing a mask poses a serious risk to other children.

The risks children face from COVID-19 have rapidly increased. Reports of hospitalizations at children’s hospitals have drastically risen since the emergence of the Delta variant. While the Alpha variant of COVID-19 posed a lesser threat to the young, the Delta variant is far more infectious and poses a greater health risk to youths.

“Last year the entire first semester, almost four full months of school, we had 653 students (test) positive for Covid. In the first nine days of school this year, we’ve had 899,” School Board member Laura Hine reminded us at a School Board meeting on Aug. 24.

It’s difficult to completely grasp the magnitude of that fact. In only nine days, we managed to surpass the number of COVID-19 cases from an entire semester. We’ve had nearly 150 more cases in the last nine school days than we previously had in a four-month period.

Here at Lakewood, we’ve had 31 cases since the school year started just two weeks ago. In the entire first semester last year, we had four. With that being said, we do have more students on campus than we did at the beginning of last year, but even so, the colossal upturn in cases is absurd. Even with vaccines available to high school students, we still see a momentous rise in cases. It’s astonishing to see such a high shift in numbers, especially when the only policy changes from last year are the elimination of virtual classrooms and the removal of a mask mandate.

Due to the spike in cases following the Delta variant, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has adjusted its recommendations in favor of all school students, staff and visitors wearing masks indoors, regardless of if one is vaccinated. Gov. Ron DeSantis instituted an executive order prohibiting schools from requiring face masks. Our state government’s disregard of advice from medical experts regarding the pandemic is incredibly vexing. Befittingly, DeSantis’ executive order was deemed unconstitutional on Friday (8/27). The lasting effects of this order forced children into an area where their safety is put into jeopardy and stripped away their limited protections, which raises a couple ethical conundrums, to say the least.

The pandemic isn’t over; it’s surging. We need to continue to treat COVID-19 as the threat it is: grave. It’s our collective responsibility to keep our children safe. If our School Board were truly worried about the health and safety of children, we would all be wearing masks. The School Board had a meeting Aug. 24 where they proposed holding an emergency meeting to consider enforcing a mask mandate in public schools. That meeting would have taken place on Aug. 27. However, the board voted against it (4-3) on the grounds that it would go against DeSantis’s order to ban mask mandates.

But now that the executive order in question has been nullified, the board has no reason not to go forward. At any time, the board could call a meeting and vote to put masks back into our schools. This is our chance to drive change. You can contact the school board at [email protected]. We have the opportunity to make a substantial change in the lives and protection of our children. For the safety of all of Pinellas County, the mask mandate must be reinstated.

-This editorial reflects the opinion of the SNN editorial board