LEE COUNTY, Fla. — After two weeks of mandatory masks in Lee County public schools, health experts hoped to see a drop in cases and hospitalizations as a result of the new mandate.
“We know that it should have, especially if enforcement was in place,” Dr. Stephanie Stovall of Lee Health said, “because we know that masks work, we know that masks do prevent transmission, particularly in settings where you are close together.”
Dr. Dana Crater works as a pediatrician and said for a moment last week, there was hope.
“And we thought, ‘Oh my gosh it’s working, the kids have been wearing masks the last 10 days and we’re starting to see a real decrease in the number of sick visits.”
She was disappointed to see the district back down and allow parents to opt their children out of masks. Lee Schools superintendent Ken Savage says once the judge made the ruling, legally the district had no choice.
“When the state law is saying I can’t do something,” Savage said, “I don’t have the ability in my understanding of my role to just ignore that. Parents aren’t the only ones frustrated. All of us, myself included, we’re all frustrated.”
Parents who already signed the opt-out form won’t have to do it again. The district says they’ll use data from local health officials to decide what to do when the mandate expires on September 30.
“The hope on my end,” Savage said, “is that fewer people choose to opt out because they recognize, in this community, this is a pretty significant moment.”
Crater urges parents to keep the masks on until Lee County’s COVID surge is no longer a threat to students and families.
“Think of it as temporary until this deadly pandemic surge is getting better and they can reevaluate,” she says, “that if they could do that one little step, we know it would help.”
As of Monday night, 5,366 students and teachers across Lee County schools have tested positive for COVID-19. To see the most recent data on cases in classrooms, head HERE.
We’ve seen parents — and plenty of adults without kids in the Lee County School District — speak out against masking in classrooms. Many of those speakers are citing conspiracy theories and misinformation in their fight against masks. We fact-checked many of those claims in the video below: