Freedom, masks and COVID-19

Sandra ClarkLet's Talk

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Two days later, President Trump declared Covid a national emergency, releasing federal funds to fight the spread. Trump asked Congress for an economic stimulus bill, and Congress responded on March 26 with the $2 trillion CARES Act. Trump signed it into law on March 27. Sixteen days.

Had the United States maintained focus and a unified response, we surely would be better off today. But we’re not China, thank goodness. There are reports of Chinese officials simply welding doors shut to prevent social interaction, leaving residents with whatever food and supplies they had on hand. That’s the ultimate lockdown.

We Americans value freedom. So, we’ve resisted mask-wearing and bar-closing and virtual school mandates. Knox County Commission has held marathon meetings, listening to complains about “the unelected board of health” limiting individual rights.

This week, the anger and frustration boiled over at the school board meeting. The issue: a face mask policy amendment, advocated by board chair Susan Horn. Current policy gives principals leeway in granting exceptions. Horn’s amendment would have exempted masks for students while performing extracurricular activities such as band, athletics and theatre.

After two hours of discussion, the board never voted on the motion. Board members, led by Jennifer Owen and Daniel Watson, criticized the lack of notice. Owen said, “Late additions create problems with transparency and with trust. And why make a major change in the middle of the second semester?” Watson said he had talked with teachers and others and “did not find support” for the change.

No harm, no foul, you say. But what about some of the quotes from parents.

A mom said of her first grader: “I need her sweet little face to be free. She needs to smile and be smiled at. … I want my kids’ immune systems to have muscles.”

Another mom said a normal life means school without masks. “Healthy children should be at school – not quarantined.”

A dad said masks don’t work and wearing them should be a matter of parental choice. “If you really want to keep kids healthy, feed them organic foods.”

A couple spoke, each decrying online classes and mandatory masks for in-school classes. “You are not allowing our children to breathe,” said the mom. “Our kids deserve a normal life.”

Another parent suggested a staggered schedule so teachers could have 15 or fewer students in class at one time and no one would wear a mask. “Students are required to wear masks in gym class. Why even have gym? It’s ridiculous and too much.”

“Life, liberty and common sense,” said another. “Take the masks off kids and keep them in school.”

Finally, a woman in tears said the school board has forgotten working families. “Keep our schools open.”

Meanwhile, teachers are not old enough (70) to get the Covid vaccine. And 10,721 Tennesseans have Covid on their death certificates; 539 of them from Knox County.

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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