‘It makes me angry’: Top infectious diseases doctor calls out schools lacking mask policies

Dr. Tina Tan expressed frustration at how schools are reacting — or not reacting — to rising COVID-19 cases.
Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 10:50 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - One of the nation’s top infectious diseases doctors is calling out some school districts, saying their refusal to mandate masks is a choice to put children at risk of severe illness and even death.

“Those of us in infectious diseases are frustrated because we see what’s happening, and I guess they think it’s not going to happen to them,” said Dr. Tina Tan, Infectious Diseases Society of America.

But it is happening, and it’s happening at schools where masks are not a must.

Omaha Public Schools and Westside Community Schools instituted mask policies before classes started. But one week into the start of the new year, Millard Public Schools — one of many districts in the Omaha-metro not requiring masksshut down an elementary classroom because of multiple cases of COVID-19.

Asked if the decision not to mandate masks is a decision not to put the children first, Dr. Tan said: “That’s how I see it. I mean the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, everyone recommends universal mask mandates.”

“People not doing that because they feel that it infringes on people’s rights or it doesn’t work, or there’s no science behind it, it’s just really mind-boggling at times,” she said.

Students from a Montclair Elementary class were told to stay home Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, after four positive COVID-19 cases were identified in the class.

On Wednesday, parents were pleading with Millard school officials to protect their children.

“You need to get on the ball. You need to get with it. You need to head the advice of the all the experts that are at our fingertips,” Jaimie Short said. “And No. 1: mask. It should be required.”

Children’s Hospital is also urging schools to mask up, saying they can’t handle much more.

“We have seen (COVID-19) patients in the last week. It varies day-to-day how many we have, but I fear that number is going to continue to grow,” said Dr. Whitney Bossert, a pediatric hospitalist at Children’s.

With RSV and other respiratory illnesses peaking, Children’s Hospital is running out of resources.

“We are currently at capacity or near capacity most times,” Dr. Bossert said. “We’re having to put patients — board them in the emergency room, use other units and there is ultimately a limit on staffing as well.”

Of the 145 beds at Children’s Hospital, 132 of them were occupied as of Thursday. More than half of those patients are RSV cases; two are COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Tan says it’s time for the adults to step up and protect the children, especially those too young for a COVID-19 vaccine.

“This is not a political battle. It’s a public health issue, and it really should be centered around the safety of the children who are at schools,” Dr. Tan said.

She doesn’t mince words when it comes to her message to the schools. Asked what’s at stake if districts don’t mandate masks, she said: “The lives of the children, the teachers, and that staff that are in the schools.”

At Monday night’s meeting, the Millard Public Schools board said it will revisit the topic of masking at its schools at its September meeting.

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