The cultural wars have turned into the COVID wars, and the latest battleground is Orange County.
A case in point: While school districts in Los Angeles, San Diego and elsewhere are planning to start the school year with online-only classes in response to the surge in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations, the Orange County Board of Education wants to go in the exact opposite direction.
Reopen schools, the board recommended Monday, no masks, "hybrid learning models" or social distancing required.
Of course, that flies in the face of pretty much every recommendation coming from the nation’s preeminent public health experts.
But why trust actual experts when the Board of Education produced its own white paper with cherry-picked data points and unsupported assertions? For example, the paper argued that social distancing and smaller class sizes in K-12 schools are unnecessary because children are at low risk of contracting COVID-19. As for masks? Requiring students to wear face coverings may be “very harmful,” possibly causing learning disabilities, anxiety disorders and depression, and it’s “not based on science.”
Tell that to the scientists. Children may be less likely to develop severe illness from the coronavirus than adults, but they can still be infected and transmit the virus to other people, infectious disease experts told The Times this week. And masks are important protection. The Centers for Disease Control has said children over age 2 and students, especially older ones, should wear masks to help prevent community spread.
The Orange County board also praised the American Academy of Pediatrics' “simple, common-sense guidelines” for reopening schools. But those guidelines recommend having all students and teachers in middle and high schools wear face coverings when they can’t maintain six feet of social distancing. The group also lists masks as a “high priority strategy” for elementary school students if kids are able to wear the masks without touching their faces. So, maybe masks aren’t so harmful after all?
Reopening schools is a vital goal, as we have noted repeatedly. But doing so requires balancing the need to provide a high-quality education against the need to slow the spread of a deadly disease among students, teachers, staff and their families. Masks, social distancing and other protective measures are necessary to tip the balance toward reopening. That’s why it’s so baffling that the O.C. Board of Education would reject them.
“Among our greatest responsibilities as adults is our responsibility to model courage and persistence in the face of uncertainty and fear, which is what many families are feeling with the mixed messages and confusion surrounding reopening of schools in the COVID-19 era," the board argued in its white paper.
You know what else adults should model? Caution and care for the vulnerable among us, along with respect for science and the guidance of public health experts.