116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
We, along with other physicians and parents, have launched petitions on behalf of health care workers and community members asking the Iowa City Community School District to open with a mask mandate. We are inspired by the Dallas, Texas, and Alachua County, Florida, school boards’ decisions to require masks and decided to launch a similar effort in Iowa City. The reason is simple: masks decrease the spread of COVID-19, thus decreasing illness and death in our community.
We ask our schools to teach science. Science is a process of asking questions and gathering evidence to determine the answers. Currently, the evidence shows that (see our online column for references):
- Masks work to decrease infections — and thus, illness and death — when everyone wears them [1-3].
- Masks are safe for adults and children over two [4-6].
- Universal masking in schools is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, and the WHO [7-10].
Guidance about masks has changed in recent weeks because the facts have changed. The delta variant is far more transmissible than previous variants, fueling surging case numbers in the United States. While vaccination saves lives and still is the best way to protect ourselves and others,
- Studies suggest that vaccination provides slightly less protection against contracting infection from the Delta variant [11-12],
- Studies suggest that vaccinated adults can transmit the Delta variant [13-14], and
- Data shows that children are contracting the Delta variant and getting seriously ill or dying [15-17].
Requiring everyone to wear masks is a simple way to protect and care for our friends and family members.
- Children under 12 (more than half of our students) cannot get vaccinated.
- Children must rely on caregivers to make safe choices.
- Some students and staff members cannot get vaccinated or have a family member who cannot get vaccinated due to medical conditions.
- Some students, staff, and community members have compromised or suppressed immune systems that put them at greater risk from COVID-19 and make vaccines less effective for them .
- Refusing to consider these people and their safety is an issue of ageism and ableism .
Federal law requires that all students receive a free and appropriate public education. If masks are not required, some medically fragile students’ right to that education will be violated.
We realize state legislation prohibits school districts from requiring masks. However, we ask our schools to teach students that doing the right thing is sometimes aligned with the law, and sometimes requires us to make, in the words of civil rights activist John Lewis, “good trouble.” Other school districts have successfully adopted mask mandates in the face of legislation preventing them. Those school boards decided to protect the health and lives of students and community members and to deal with the consequences with the help of the community. That is the purpose of our open letter: to show the responsible parties that we will support them through whatever consequences arise from protecting the health and lives of children and community members.
Now is the time for Superintendent Matt Degner and the School Board to act with courage and ethics. We must show our students that science speaks louder than threats, that safety matters more than politics, and that their lives matter. We ask that the school board make masks mandatory for all students, faculty, staff, and visitors in Iowa City Community School District until it is safe for students to attend without them.
Emad Abou-Arab, MD; Jill Endres, MD MS FAAFP; and Jonna Higgins-Freese