Officials Say Law Prevents Schools From Protecting Against COVID, No Word On Order From Governor
Kids returning to school with COVID variant Delta on the rise is becoming more of a concern for public health officials.
During a Healthier Oklahoma press conference yesterday, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association Dr. Mary Clarke said mask use is widely accepted in the medical community as something that cuts down on COVID cases, but schools can’t mandate masks because of a state law passed in May.
“I think if we have a lot of children this fall really getting sick, I think things might change,” said Clarke. “We know what’s going to happen, we know how to prevent it, and yet we don’t have the ability for people to say anything and do anything about it right now.”
Governor Stitt signed SB 658 on May 28th. The law says schools can’t require masks or vaccinations. A school board can require masks after consulting with the local health department, but a state of emergency declared by the governor also must exist.
When asked about whether or not the governor will issue emergency orders for even certain locales, a spokesperson for his office said there would be no update today.
During a May 25th hearing on SB 658, Sen. J.J. Dossett pushed back on the bill.
“Also it says you can’t implement a mask mandate. So, just locally, in the Tulsa area, some schools are still requiring masks, some aren’t. Why are we getting involved in this?”
Dossett said the law was “too wide and too broad.”
Sen. Rob Standridge, author of SB 658, responded that the law does not prevent mask mandates. He said it gives jurisdictions “total local control.”
Sen. Standridge’s office did not immediately return a request for reflection on the comment.
Dr. Aaron Wendelboe, epidemiologist and professor at University of Oklahoma, urged on the Healthier Oklahoma call for people to think about strategies that will allow kids to remain in school.
“Do we want kids in the classroom or not? I think we do. If that’s the priority, we need to think about policies that help us do that.”
Wendelboe said masks will cut down on transmission in schools.
“If we are able to mask, then people who are potentially exposed won’t get sick, and they’ll be able to stay in the classroom,” said Wendelboe. “So again, I just think we need to think about priorities, and a strategic plan to support those priorities.”
How bad is Delta variant for children? There have been reports of children in ICUs around the country, and officials say Delta’s higher transmissibility will lead to more cases.
There’s currently no broad evidence that Delta will be worse for children (or adults in general), and the current risk of a severe COVID infection in a child is low. The American Academy of Pediatrics says more data is needed.
The Centers for Disease Control reports 600 new cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma.