The below letter was shared with Wilmington Apple. The School Committee will likely vote on revising the district’s mask policy at Wednesday night’s meeting.
Dear School Committee Members,
My name is Karen Yurek and I live in Wilmington with my husband Jon and my six-year-old son, Billy.
Billy has just returned to in-person school in town after attending remote kindergarten at the Boutwell last year and starting first grade remotely at the Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School. The reason? Both me and my husband have chronic illnesses that require immunosuppressive therapy to manage. Our medications put us at a much higher risk of contracting contagious illnesses like COVID and of having a more severe illness if we do get sick.
Both my husband and I have received the recommended series of 4 COVID vaccine shots, and Billy has received both of his. But we have no idea how much protection this actually affords us. Our family has been mostly isolating, and on the rare occasion we do need to go out into public we are wearing N95s or equivalent. Isolation has been taking a huge toll on our wellbeing, especially for Billy, which is why we took the decision to start him back at in-person school after he was fully vaccinated (although we delayed his start date several times due to the Omicron surge).
So many other families are also in a similar situation to ours: families with immunocompromised members, families with children under 5 who cannot yet be vaccinated, families with elderly members who are at higher risk of serious illness from COVID.
We’ve been doing everything we can but now that our son is back to school, we (and other families with at-risk individuals) need our community to help us stay safe and healthy. Masks are part of a successful multi-layered public health approach to controlling transmission of COVID, and quite honestly, they are an extremely minimal burden to bear.
An evidence review of face masks against COVID-19 concludes that “Public mask wearing is most effective at reducing spread of the virus when compliance is high.” and “We recommend that public officials and governments strongly encourage the use of widespread face masks in public, including the use of appropriate regulation.” The CDC points out “the importance of using layered prevention strategies including universal masking to stop the spread and minimize disruptions to school operations for safe in-person education. These studies found that school districts without a universal masking policy in place were more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks. Nationwide, counties without masking requirements saw the number of pediatric COVID-19 cases increase nearly twice as quickly during this same period.” Transmission in our schools has been low because of mask mandates, and not having kids wear masks will increase the spread.
Hospitalizations are still high (higher than during the Delta surge in September), Wilmington’s positive test rate is still high at 7.75%, and the group with the highest COVID case rates in Massachusetts are 5-9 year olds. We’re still seeing ~85% of hospital beds in use at Massachusetts hospitals.
As our case numbers move in the right direction I understand the desire to get back to normal, but a virus doesn’t know or care about our feelings and doesn’t have a timeline. I’m worried for families like mine now that the state mask mandate is about to expire. In all seriousness, we are preparing our wills and figuring out who would have custody of Billy if we both get COVID and die from it, and it’s a terrible thing to think about with the knowledge that members of our community could help prevent this if they would only take a tiny bit of extra burden on.
I implore you, please vote to keep the mask mandate in place to protect the members of our community who don’t have the luxury of “normal” anymore.