Health experts say even if Mississippi governor won’t mandate masks for school children, parents absolutely should

Published 2:42 pm Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Mississippi’s top public health officers say parents of unvaccinated children should “absolutely” require their own children to wear face masks when they return to school, even if the school district doesn’t require them.

Mississippi’s schools have largely been left to figure out their own plans for COVID-19 mitigation even as the highly contagious Delta variant has caused new cases and hospitalizations to soar this month.

“I strongly recommend those parents continue mask use for their children who are not available for the vaccine,” said Mississippi State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said Wednesday. “That’s going to be an important step for those parents to take and that there’s appropriate physical distancing.”

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Byers said the Mississippi State Department of Health has issued guidance recommending mask usage for all K-12 students and staff.

“We encourage the schools to follow those recommendations,” Byers said.

But the Mississippi State Health Department cannot mandate schools to follow their guidance, only the governor can.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves’ spokesperson said Tuesday Reeves did not plan on mandating face mask usage again.

“Governor Reeves has no intention of requiring students and staff to wear masks when they’re in school this fall,” his spokeswoman Bailey Martin said.

Byers said the highly contagious Delta variant and a lack of full mitigation measures, including masks, would result in school outbreaks.

“I think as we head back to school, we need to have an expectation that we’re going to see cases in the school setting. We’re going to see cases in students, and we’re going to see cases in teachers.”

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said even if only one child wore a mask in a classroom the mask would make it safer for that child.

“It’s all layers of protection,” he said. “Especially for your own children. It would make more sense to get a medical-grade mask. Masking works. It’s going to keep the kids in school.”

“Right now with the highly contagious delta circulating and the majority of our children unvaccinated, it’s the perfect recipe for transmission in the schools,” Dobbs said. “It’s going to be very disruptive to have all these outbreaks.”

Dobbs said he did not believe the state department of health could mandate mask usage in state schools, but that they highly recommend mask usage and other mitigation efforts. He urged Mississippians and in particular parents and school leaders to work together to overcome the virus.

“We have gotten ourselves into this mess together, and we need to get ourselves out of it together,” he said.