With the school year just around the corner, school officials are facing a difficult decision about what COVID-19 protocols should be implemented.
It need not be a difficult decision.
School administrators can follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the American Pediatric Society, the Mississippi State Department of Health, the Mississippi Education Association and virtually every other reputable medical or educational source.
Or, of course, they can listen to Hank from Caledonia, who read somewhere that the COVID-19 vaccines are not vaccines at all, but are instead bio-engineered depopulation weapons and mask-wearing makes people sick.
Assuming that school boards and administrators make safety the highest priority — and the decision they make on this subject will either verify or refute that — schools will follow the recommendations of the experts and require that all students, staff and faculty will wear masks regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated.
Those requirements are frustrating and disappointing. When wide-spread COVID vaccinations began six months ago, we looked forward to a school year free of the precautions implemented last year. While in-person learning will resume, most if not all of the protocols implemented prior to the vaccine will probably have to remain in place.
What is frustrating is that many of the people protesting these protocols are the people most responsible for their necessity. Two-thirds of Mississippians eligible for the vaccine have refused to take them. The herd immunity we hoped would have been established by now remains elusive.
As a result, the virus continues to circulate and mutate, which means even those who have been vaccinated may be vulnerable should new vaccine-resistant strains emerge.
There is no group more susceptible to COVID outbreaks than schoolchildren, especially in Mississippi. There is no vaccine approved for elementary school-aged children, and Mississippi’s vaccination rate for ages 12-17 is 17 percent, the lowest in the nation.
The idea that no precautions should be taken is irresponsible.
Because it is very difficult for school officials to determine which students have or have not been vaccinated, the best course of action is universal compliance with the recommended precautions. Schools can’t be “a little safe from COVID” anymore than a person can be “a little pregnant.” The safety of the individual relies on those around him or her.
The one thing all parents should be able to agree on is that we want our kids in the classroom, and, once there, we want them to stay there.
An outbreak could send our kids back to the virtual classrooms we so desperately want to be a relic of the worst days of the pandemic.
School officials know whose guidance they should follow.
It’s really not a difficult decision, although it will be an unpopular one in some quarters.
We trust our school officials to make the right decision.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.