Parents: Mask now or quarantine later. It's your choice.

York Dispatch Editorial Board

Parents are picketing local schools, demanding an end to mask mandates and protesting school boards that try to reinstate them.

Their signs emphasize choice: "Parental rights matter. Keep masks optional. Choices, not coercion."

You know what?

They're right.

The masking debate is absolutely about choice.

It's a choice between a common-sense measure that creates one more barrier to COVID-19 transmission at a time when we desperately need one to protect young people who aren't yet eligible for vaccination and older or immunocompromised people who could be vulnerable to newer, more virulent strains like the Delta variant ... heavy sigh ... and more of the same: Isolation, quarantine and death.

None of these anti-maskers are monsters.

We're sure they don't want to kill anyone and they certainly don't want to risk the serious, potentially lifelong consequences that confront a small but not negligible percentage of unvaccinated youth who are infected.

These parents may not be aware of multi-system inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, but they may want to familiarize themselves with the early warning signs: a fever with abdominal pain, headache and sometimes a rash or vomiting.

Life is all about choices. A choice that averts a late-night trip to the ER and many months of recuperation is a wise choice.

The debate at our schools could soon be moot for districts that cave to the pressure and refuse to follow a few common-sense precautions.

As we've seen in communities across the South and Southwest, schools that fail to take this fourth wave of COVID infection seriously are forced to quarantine for weeks at a time or to switch back to remote learning entirely as they become the epicenters of new outbreaks of the fast-spreading Delta variant.

One of the common arguments against masks is that they make learning more difficult. This isn't such a crazy idea. As the National Institutes of Health reports, there is a tradeoff — particularly in early childhood, when facial expressions are an important form of communication. But there's not much evidence of severe learning deficits. At least not from the masks.

What causes severe learning deficits?

Not going to school at all.

Just one example (and there are many others, a Google search away): Researchers documented significant issues even in The Netherlands, a country that managed to contain its original outbreak quickly and reopened schools within a matter of months.

When — not if — our schools quarantine due to positive cases or are forced to revert to an all-virtual model due to a serious outbreak, learning will become a whole lot more difficult.

We just endured a school year where most students struggled with poor internet connections, glitchy video conferencing software and countless distractions at home. Not to mention the complications for working parents forced to pull double- and triple-duty as their child's classroom aide and technical support.

Do we really want to return to the bad old days of last winter?

Dealing with a cranky child who doesn't want to wear a mask is easy compared to the alternatives.

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