OMAHA — Hundreds of Nebraska moms are calling for schools to implement mask requirements to help protect students against COVID-19.
And the women aren’t just mothers — they also serve as physicians, coming from a number of different specialties.
The group extends throughout the entire state, with about 700 members in total, according to Dr. Christine Mitchell, an Omaha-area internal medicine specialist. Dr. Maureen Boyle, a member of the Douglas County Board, is also involved with the group.
Around the country, mask mandates are being put back in place as COVID cases rise, fueled by the contagious delta variant. Nebraska has seen six straight weeks of increases in virus cases. Hospitalizations, primarily involving unvaccinated people, are also up.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that all students and staff wear masks in school, even if they are vaccinated.
Several school districts in the state — including the Lincoln, Ralston and Westside districts — have said they will require elementary school students and staff to wear masks because most of those students are too young to get a COVID vaccine. Many other school districts are still evaluating their plans.
Despite the advice from the CDC and public health officials, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has said schools should not require masks or vaccinations.
Dr. Melissa St. Germain, an Omaha pediatrician, said the delta variant spreads about as easily as chickenpox.
“The delta variant has really changed what we know about COVID,” she said. “It is way more infectious — about 1,000 times more viral particles floating around than the previous version of COVID.”
Masks are able to catch most of the viral particles as they come out of someone’s mouth, St. Germain said.
Dr. Emily Dietle, another area pediatrician, said she has received emails from parents who are concerned about their children going to school.
“They can vaccinate their kids, but not all kids are healthy,” she said. “All kids deserve an education; all kids deserve to be able to go to school, have social interactions.”
Dietle said that the group doesn’t view masks as a way to keep people apart but as a way to keep them together. Masks can allow schools to safely open and stay open, she said.
While mortality rates for children who contract COVID are low, Dietle said kids are not immune from the long-term effects of it.
Mitchell said that when making decisions regarding masking and vaccines, public officials need to look at the data, citing an increase in the number of youths under 19 who have caught the virus.
While critics, such as Ricketts, have expressed frustration over the shifting guidance, Mitchell said it is important for policies to adapt to the situation based on the information available.
“This virus changes. The pandemic changes. And we have to change our policies with it,” she said. “Now it’s time that we make the restrictions again, put the masks on and see if we can keep school going all year, just like we did last year.”
Photos: Looking back at how Nebraska reopened schools amid the pandemic