School mask mandates still make good sense in Hampshire County

Published in the Hampshire Gazette Feb. 23, 2022. This open letter was co-authored with Seth Cable, Summer Cable, Michael Stein and Susan Voss, and was also signed by 216 other people that live and work in Hampshire County, listed at the end of this letter. For further information on Covid safety in schools, please see the Urgency of Equity toolkit.

An opinion column published in the Hampshire Gazette on Feb. 17 2022 claims that “even if at one point in the pandemic it was possible to make a reasonable argument for the masking of children in school, that is no longer the case”. We disagree, since the following provides what we take to be a clearly reasonable basis for deciding to continue the school mask mandates until the levels of community transmission subside to a much lower level. We offer this as a statement of views that we believe are widespread, but are usually not made as vocally as those of the opponents of mask mandates and other public health measures.

1. It is reasonable to minimize spread in our community by using school masking. Our children interact with other members of the community, some of whom are relatively vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19 infection. By slowing spread in our schools, we are also slowing spread in our communities. The authors of the opinion column claim that “[t]here are no credible scientific data indicating that masking of children in schools has limited the spread of COVID-19”. They do not say why they do not consider the data presented by the CDC or other data to be credible. It is possible that they consider only data from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to be credible, since they say in the next sentence that “[n]o randomized controlled trials of mandatory school masking have been carried out”. The CDC and other experts clearly consider sources of evidence other than RCTs to be useful, and it is not difficult to imagine why no RCTs have been run on school masking. For example, Institutional Review Boards may well balk at approving a study with a control group of unmasked students in a community with high transmission. 

2. It is reasonable to characterize the current local level of community transmission as high, and the risk to community health of that transmission as high as well. According to Mass-DPH data, there were 680 new cases in Hampshire County the week ending Feb. 17, which translates to a per capita rate that is over 4 times the CDC’s bar for “high transmission”, and over 8 times the bar for indoor mask wearing. Many of those cases are likely from an outbreak at UMass Amherst, which reported 456 cases in the week ending Feb. 15th. The future impact to the broader community of that outbreak is unknown. The Mass-DPH reports 37 Covid-19 deaths in the last 28 days in Hampshire County, which can reasonably be taken to indicate a high community health risk.

3. It is reasonable to minimize Covid-19 infections in our children. While most children recover quickly from Covid-19 and have mild symptoms, some wind up in hospital, and some die. That the proportion of deaths is lower than in adults, or that the number is lower than child deaths from some other cause, does not make it any less desirable to avoid those deaths. In addition, the long-term effects of these infections is unknown. There are clearly long-term effects of Covid-19 infections in general. We can only hope that childhood infections with Omicron, especially in vaccinated children, will have fewer long-term effects.

4. Mandates maximize the protection of each individual. If everyone in a room wears a mask, the amount of airborne virus is minimized, maximizing the protection for everyone. It is a less effective protection for an individual if others are maskless. This is especially true if that individual does not have the mask perfectly fitted, or occasionally takes it off to eat or drink, circumstances that seem common in a school. Wearing a mask is not just about protecting oneself, it is also for the protection of the community, including its most vulnerable members. For example, universal masking allows children who are immune compromised or otherwise at high risk for severe disease and children who have family members who are immune compromised to attend school when it would otherwise be unsafe to do so. 

5. It is reasonable to decide that real or potential negative effects of masking are outweighed by their positive benefits in minimizing Covid-19 infections. There seems to be no good evidence of negative effects of masking on child development. It is quite possible that speakers of non-mainstream varieties of English (e.g. second language speakers) may be more impacted than others by mask wearing. Real and potential negative effects should be taken into account in any decision about a mask mandate, and attempts should be made to address them when masking is in effect. But it may well be that the benefits of masks outweigh any risks.  

Signed by:

Joe Pater, Northampton resident and Professor of Linguistics, UMass Amherst

Summer Cable, Northampton resident

Seth Cable, Florence resident and UMass Faculty

Susan Voss, Northampton resident and Professor of Engineering, Smith College

Michael Stein, Northampton Resident, Ward 4 School Committee Member

Jennifer Ritz Sullivan, COVIDJustice Leader for Massachusetts with Marked By COVID  Goshen

Suzanne Theberge MPH, Northampton 

Tom Roeper, Amherst

Naomi Gerstel, Professor emerita UMass, resident Northampton

Rene Theberge, Retired Public Health Worker, Florence

Neil Kudler MD, Physician

Kirsten Leng, Resident of Northampton, Associate Professor, Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Jean Potter, Doula, Northampton 

Frazer Ward, Northampton

Erica Kates, Florence, MA

Thomas Wartenberg, Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, Mount Holyoke College

Jen Davis, Northampton

Lou Davis, Financial Planner and Advisor, Northampton

Wenona Rymond-Richmond, Northampton

Eric Poehler, Northampton

Karen Foster, Ward 2 City Councilor

Erin Kates, Resident of Florence 

Sarah Metcalf, writer, Northampton resident

Christopher Pye, teacher, Northampton resident

Andrew Kennard, Postdoctoral Fellow, UMass Amherst. Amherst resident

Tom Riddell, Northampton

Beth Adel, Teacher and resident of Northampton 

Elliot Fratkin, Professor Emeritus Smith College. Northampton

Sally Popper, Retired, Northampton

Robert Buscher, Northampton

Laura Briggs, Professor, University of Massachusetts and Northampton resident

Maureen Flannery, Northampton

Steven Goode, Northampton

Christopher Golden, parent and NOAA software engineer, Northampton

Hedy Rose, retired educator, Northampton resident

Norma Akamatsu, Social Worker, Psychotherapist, Northampton

Ian Goodman, MD, Pediatrician and Northampton Resident

Angela Silvia, CT technologist, Northampton, MA

Meg Robbins, Resident,  Northampton, MA

Traci Olsen, Northampton

Jennifer L. Nye, Northampton resident and UMass Amherst faculty member (History)

Anisa Schardl, Northampton Public Schools teacher and parent

Janet Gross, Retired

Nicolas Gross, Retired

Matthew Hine, Service Engineer (Aerospace), Northampton

John Selfridge, public school teacher, Northampton

Sara Lennox, Northampton

Jill de Villiers, Professor, Smith College, Northampton resident

Daniel Cannity, Northampton Resident

Rachel Merrell, Teacher

Cora Fernandez Anderson, Assistant Professor at Mount Holyoke College, Amherst resident

Melinda Buckwalter, Williamsburg

Emily Hamilton, Professor of history of science/medicine

Taylor Flynn, Parent & retired professor, Northampton MA

Deborah Keisch, Florence

Adele Franks, Public health physician, retired

Young Min Moon, Professor, UMass Amherst

Jude Almeida, School-Based Social Worker, Northampton resident

Karin Baker, Teacher, Northampton

Meghan  Armstrong-Abrami, Associate Professor of Hispanic Linguistics, Northampton resident

Lynn Posner Rice, Northampton

Justin Pizzoferrato, Father/self employed

Greg Lewis, Public Health Emergency Planner, Northampton

Alyssa Lovell, school-based OTR/L 

Kim Gerould, Northampton

Omar Dahi, College professor 

Kai Simon, Northampton 

Andrea Ayvazian, Pastor, Northampton resident

Jennifer Fronc, UMass Faculty; Northampton resident

Graciela Monteagudo, Senior Lecturer, UMass Amherst, Amherst Resident

Roberta Issler, Retired teacher

Cathy McNally consultant, Northampton

Rachel Wysoker, Northampton

T. Stephen Jones, MD, MPH retired public health physician 

Alison Morse, Educator

Cory Ellen Gatrall, Registered Nurse

John McNally, Attorney and grandparent, Northampton

Jeff Napolitano, Northampton, MA

Rebecca Busansky, Northampton

Rachel Yox, Amherst

Judd Gledhill, Director IT

Meg Bogdan, Parent of Northampton Public School Students

Roz Chapman, Northampton 

Lisa Weremeichik,  Northampton

Charles Dumont, MD MS Pulmonary and Critical Care physician

Tara Dumont, MD Physician

Rebecca Burwell, Professor 

Karen Sullivan, College staff, Northampton

Victoria  Dixon, Disabilities Advocate, Amherst 

Leah Greenberger, veterinarian, Belchertown MA

Annie Salsich, Self-employed 

Gabriel Phipps, Adjunct Professor

Karen Hodges, Florence

Katherine Fabel, DUA and Lecturer, UMass Amherst, Florence MA

Nykole Roche, Northampton resident w/3 kids in NPS

Garrett Warren, Amherst

Annabelle Link, Northampton

Capella Sherwood, Music teacher/ Northampton

Bertha Thorman, Northampton

Neha Kennard, Amherst

Kelly Link, Writer

Lesley Yalen, Florence, MA

David Arnold, UMass Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences

Kristen Elde, Leeds

Lisa Harvey, Professor of Psychological & Brain Sciences at UMass, Resident of Amherst

Michael Becker, Hadley resident and UMass Faculty

Henry Rosenberg, Northampton

Andrew Gorry, Staff, UMass Amherst

Eddie (Erin) Gorry, UMass Staff, Resident of Florence, MA

Leeba Morse, Grant Writer

Jonathan Knapp, Northampton Public Schools educator

Alexis Callender, Works as faculty in Northampton, Lives in Easthampton

Megan Paik, Northampton

Mary Hoyer, Amherst resident and retired Hartford Public Schools teacher

Terianne Falcone, Writer / teacher

David Ball, Northampton

Renee Spring, Amherst Psychotherapist

Therese Kim, Social Worker

Anand Soorneedi, Amherst

Dorcas Grigg-Saito, Northampton, retired Community Health Center CEO

Erica Deighton, Retired educator, Amherst resident.

Steve Waksman, Elsie Irwin Sweeney Professor of Music, Smith College

Cornelia Daniel, Retired in Amherst

Christine Clark, Dental Hygienist 

Wendy Sutter, Amherst resident

Lijah Joyce, Amherst 

Patricia Maynard, Retired teacher. Northampton resident 

Heather Brown, Educator, Northampton 

Marissa Elkins, Attorney/City Councilor 

Mary Savarese, Retired Teacher 

Peggy Matthews-Nilsen, Amherst (Psychotherapist, Retired)

Julia Frisby, Hatfield MA

Karen Osborn, Anherst

Lisa Moos, Physical Therapist Assistant 

Patricia Duffy, Leverett

Barbara Palangi, Retired

Elizabeth Jimenez, Northampton

Sandy Oldershaw, South Hadley 

Tania Menz, Hatfield Resident, Hadley Family Physician

Kimberly Schlichting, resident of Hadley, teacher in Northampton

Elizabeth Hallstrom, resident of Amherst

Kasey Mimitz, Youth services coordinator

Scarlett Mimitz, Student

Nora Mimitz, Student

Emily Kawano, Non-profit Co-director

Jalen Michals Levy, EMT-B

Andrea Gaus, Farmer, Hatfield 

Melanie Miller, Northampton

Daniel and Angela Dee Amherst

Sandra Torrence, Teacher

Michelle Trim, Faculty at UMass Amherst/ South Hadley

Roberta Pato, Retired teacher, Northampton

Barbara Partee, Amherst resident and Professor Emerita, UMass Amherst

Norma Brunelle, Retired

Raymond R. Brunelle, Retired

Mark Brunelle, Laborer

Joanne Brunelle, Dental Assistant

Barbara Cooper, Retired teacher/librarian

Toni Brown, Hatfield

Faruk Akkus, Faculty at UMass Amherst

Felice Swados, South Hadley

Victoria Rosen, Northampton 

Felice Swados, South Hadley

Victoria Rosen, Northampton 

Jon Wynn, UMass Amherst, Associate Professor, Northampton Resident

Zelia Almeida, RN Pediatric ICU/ Belchertown 

Marci Linker, Occupational Therapist and Northampton resident

Lindsay Whittier-Liu, Northampton 

Sarah Wolfe, Northampton paralegal, resident of Belchertown

Jean Fay, Amherst educator

Lance Hodes, Pelham

Alex Robinson, Amherst

Barry Seth, Student in Amherst

Oliver Dubon, Amherst

Basil  Perkins, College Student

Ivonne Vidal, Belchertown, Attorney 

Tina Cornell, Florence 

Judith Trickey retired

Lisa  Packard, Amherst 

Bennett Lyons, Amherst, MA

Kate Matt, Shutesbury

Anne Hazzard, Amherst

Isolda Ortega-Bustamante, fundraiser; Amherst

Maureen Vezina, Belchertown 

Evelyn Trier, Mount Holyoke College Admission/ Amherst resident & parent

Katherine Kraft, retired, Amherst 

Marshall Cohen, retired, Amherst

Monroe Rabin, retired

George Collison, retired prof

Emilie Hamilton, Amherst

Stefan Gonick, Belchertown

John Hondrogen, retired and still masking in Pelham

David Gross, Pelham

Lili Kim, Amherst

Susan Watkins, Shutesbury

Amelia Vetter, Student, Amherst

Dan Levine, Business Owner

Theresa Ryan, Realtor

Jenny Miller Sechler, Psychotherapist, Northampton

Matthew Levin, retired pre-school/k teacher (Northampton)Hatfield (residence)

Robert Jackson, Amherst

Amy Dopp, Easthampton

Keri Heitner, Amherst

Anita Sarro, Retired Nurse-Attorney

Amy Hirsch, Psychologist

Emily Case, Amherst parent, Hatfield educator

Michelle McBride, UMASS Employee in Linguistics Department

Kimberly Stillwell, Speech Language Pathologist, Northampton

Delia Martinez, Retired teacher-keep masks in schools

Amy Martyn, Florence

Rebecca Leopold,Northampton, retired Amherst-Pelham HS teacher

Alicia Lopez, Teacher, Amherst

Sharon Moulton, Northampton

Louis Faassen, Architect

Scott Billups, Shutesbury

Jacqueline A. Faison, Pelham

Seth Lepore, Arts and Small Business Consultant, Easthampton, MA

Rachel Brod, Northampton

Stephanie and David Kraft, Retired

Jack Howe-Janssen, Florence

Annette Gates Teacher, Crocker Farm Elementary