Traverse City News and Events

Seventeen TC Pediatricians Urge School Districts To Adopt Universal Masking

By Beth Milligan | Aug. 13, 2021

Seventeen pediatricians from three area children's clinics are urging local school districts to adopt universal masking policies this fall, citing concerns about the spread of the Delta variant and the risk it could pose to students and educators in the upcoming school year.

Pediatricians from Grand Traverse Children’s Clinic, Kids Creek Children’s Clinic, and Traverse Area Pediatric and Adolescent Clinic signed the letter advocating for a universal masking policy for in-person schooling at all grade levels regardless of vaccination status. "Over the past 18 months we have learned a few things for certain," the group wrote. "Vaccination is the best way to prevent COVID-19. Universal masking is a close second. Third, with masking in place, in-school learning is safe and more effective than remote instruction, regardless of community rates of infection."

The pediatricians went on to note that the Delta variant has been identified in Grand Traverse County and has been shown to impact both children and adults. "Since Delta was identified in GT County, our weekly average of new cases has doubled from 46 to 91 and similarly for hospitalizations," the group wrote. "Within our own offices, we have witnessed this increase in test positivity on a local level over the past month. This is not a problem isolated to other regions of our country. In addition to being quickly and widely transmitted in indoor unmasked environments, (the) Delta variant has also been documented to be passed among vaccinated persons. Experts agree, masks are proven to decrease transmission and infection. They are safe and effective, and our students wore them last year with few exceptions."

The pediatricians noted that students are a "vulnerable population" since those under the age of 12 have not had the opportunity to be vaccinated yet. "In addition, we have a mental health crisis of depression and anxiety for which the routine of school and social interactions has been an important countermeasure," the group wrote. "Furthermore, we should not ignore our immunocompromised or high-risk students, caregivers, and educators who have felt the isolation and vulnerability of this pandemic for the last 18 months. These at-risk children also deserve the opportunity to have as safe an in-person learning experience as possible."

The pediatricians said it was reasonable to assume that voluntary masking in schools - an approach being adopted by Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) and Grand Traverse Academy, among others - will be less effective than universal masking. "This could lead to unnecessary school closures and student quarantines," the group wrote. "It might also become a significant source of community transmission. Grand Traverse County is already currently classified as having substantial community transmission, which according to current CDC, MDHHS and AAP recommendations, indicates that all individuals over age 2, regardless of immunization status, should be wearing masks at indoor gatherings."

The pediatricians closed their letter by noting that their practices last year "advocated for a return to in-person schooling on the condition of implementation of appropriate safety measures in the best interest of our students. Removing one of the primary safeguards that led to that success, while battling a more dangerous variant in our community, in a majority unvaccinated student population is counterproductive. This year our position is no different. Universal masking needs to be implemented in all schools for the start of the 2021-2022 academic year."

Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers also posted an open letter to the TCAPS school board this week asking them to reconsider the district's decision to make masks optional this fall, calling it a "short-sighted" decision. "I understand last year was an extremely difficult time on our students and many families because of COVID-19," he wrote. "But with emerging variants coming to this area; limited access to the vaccine for children under 12; a strong anti-vaccination movement; and so many unknowns with this virus, now is not the time to experiment on our youth or the dedicated teachers in our public school system by not requiring proven preventative measures such as masks." Carruthers asked school board members not to "place some of our most vulnerable people at risk due to the concerns of a small group of fringe and conspiracy theory based people. Please use science and facts from the CDC to provide proven protection for our children and those who teach them."

Pictured: TCAPS Administration Building

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