My name is Andrew Thomas and I am the parent of a rising first-grader in the Greene County School system for the 2021-2022 school year. First, I would like to congratulate the Greene County School Board and administrators on a successful 2020-2021 school year. A year that, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, saw Greene County schools able to remain open to in-person learning. The facility and staff of the schools were able to provide an effective learning environment to all students in their care through their own resourcefulness, strength and empathy, which was bolstered by your leadership. This success is no small feat and should be applauded.
In the shadow of last year’s successes, it is with great dismay that I learned of the decision by the Greene County School Board on Aug. 4 to make masks optional within schools for the upcoming school year. Given the information we have about the currently spreading Delta coronavirus variant, the absence of vaccinations for the youngest in our population, the removal of an online option and that 24% of the GCPS employees are currently not vaccinated, this decision seems foolish and reckless.
The Delta variant currently accounts for more than 80% of all COVID-19 cases in the United States. Delta spreads two to three times faster, reproduces more quickly in our cells and a person infected with Delta may be contagious sooner. While vaccines prevent severe illness, hospitalizations and death—even from the Delta variant—this protection is not yet available for our youngest learners or those who are unable to take the vaccine or choose not to.
At this point the greatest protection afforded to our youngest citizens or those with pre-existing conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated is masking. Bottom line is masks work! Masks are most effective when everyone around you is wearing them. That is why the Virginia Department of Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control recommend masking for all people in schools this year, regardless of vaccination status, due to the prevalence and transmissibility of the Delta variant.
To those who would cry personal freedom in the choice to wear masks, I would like to quote John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, “Being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” That one’s freedoms end where another’s begin, or more importantly are infringed, has been affirmed throughout American history from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. to Abraham Lincoln. When it comes to the youngest and least protected amongst us, we should be using this philosophy of freedom as our basis for making decisions, not whoever shouts the loudest in a room.
In closing, I would like to point to the final slide of the presentation on masking from the meeting on Aug. 4 where it is stated that, “We have a strong commitment to ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of all of our students, staff, and community,” and ask exactly how not requiring one of the best protections our most vulnerable have against the possibility of contracting and spreading COVID-19 in any variant is honoring this commitment? I hope you will reconsider this decision and return to requiring masks in Greene County schools and not continue to allow the discomfort of a few to overshadow the health and safety of others.