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Sending unvaccinated, maskless children to school amid a surge in COVID-19 cases is like hosting a giant, deadly “chickenpox party,” warned Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who has issued a statewide mask mandate for students, teachers, staff and visitors.
The Democratic governor made the comparison in a press briefing Thursday as he defended the school mask mandate he issued last week. He called it the right thing to do. He warned that Kentucky hospital capacity was reaching a “critical point” as COVID-19 cases rapidly increase.
“Sending unmasked, unvaccinated kids into a poorly ventilated classroom is like holding the world’s largest chickenpox party, except instead of chickenpox it is the third-leading cause of death last year,” he said, referring to COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the new delta variant of the coronavirus is as contagious as chickenpox.
A federal judge in Kentucky on Thursday moved to temporarily block Beshear’s school mask mandate. He argued that Beshear appeared to lack sufficient authority because the state legislature had previously overridden his veto of a measure limiting his public health power.
“The Executive Branch cannot simply ignore laws passed by the duly-elected representatives of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Therein lies tyranny,” wrote U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman.
The ruling grants only a temporary suspension of the mandate and currently affects only schools within the Catholic Diocese of Covington, reports Kentucky Today.
The case, brought by parents of a Catholic school, must still be argued on its merits. The next hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
Beshear’s executive order was to go into effect for 30 days, with the possibility that it would be extended.
The governor noted that the CDC recommends masks in schools regardless of vaccination status.
“We are at a point where we cannot allow our kids to go into these buildings unprotected, unvaccinated, and face this delta variant,” Beshear said when he signed the order.
Kentucky had nearly 5,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, the third-highest single-day increase since the pandemic began. More than a quarter of new daily cases — 26% — are in children and teenagers 18 and younger, The Lexington Herald-Leader reported.
The last Kentucky governor, Republican Matt Bevin, sparked a storm of controversy when he boasted in 2019 that he and his wife made certain that all nine of their children caught chickenpox by exposing them to neighbors with the illness. Health experts instantly slammed the practice.
Before chickenpox vaccinations were available, parents sometimes held chickenpox “parties” so their kids could be exposed. But once vaccinations were available, they were much safer than exposing children to the illness, which can have dangerous, even fatal complications, according to health experts.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.