LTE: Masks in Hopewell Valley schools

To the Editor:

Like many parents in Hopewell Township, I watched the HVRSD Board of Education meeting on August 16 to learn about plans for the upcoming school year. I was not prepared, however, for the parade of anti-mask crusaders who attacked our new superintendent over the State’s mask requirement. For those who are not aware, Governor Phil Murphy recently mandated that all children wear masks while at school this Fall, with certain exceptions. I listened with curiosity to the public comment as people cited court cases and laws that ostensibly prohibit mask mandates, and claimed that studies show masks are both ineffective and harmful.

As a lawyer and a nurse, I was surprised by these comments because I follow both public health and the law closely. I was not aware of the cases, laws, or studies they alluded to during public comment. After some quick investigating, my suspicions about these claims were confirmed: they’re balderdash. I’m not going to convince anyone who sobbed through their three minutes of public comment at the Board meeting that they’re wrong. But I would like to put at ease the minds of other parents who watched the meeting and became confused about the efficacy or legality of masking.

An article by Russell Falcon of KXAN in Austin compiled an excellent list of 49 studies from prestigious journals supporting the use of masks. That’s in addition to over a century of mask use in the medical field that resulted in preventing countless infections. Billions of people living in East Asian countries and around the world rely on the routine use of masks for safe and effective infection control. As for harm, there is no evidence that wearing masks reduces your oxygen level or makes you sick. These scare tactics have been thoroughly debunked and it saddened me to see at least one fellow nurse fighting against this important and basic infection control method.

The anti-mask group also made spurious legal claims. They said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires a pulse oximetry reading every two hours on a person wearing a mask in a normal oxygen environment – it doesn’t. They said the Texas Supreme Court banned mask mandates in school – it didn’t. In fact, it upheld the Texas governor’s ban on mask mandates. This would be similar to the New Jersey courts upholding our governor’s mask requirement. Both Texas and Florida have banned local mask mandates and both states are seeing a relentless surge in COVID19 cases.

The group also claimed that a mask requirement is unconstitutional. But people have no more of a liberty interest in going maskless during a pandemic than they do going shirtless in a convenience store. Indeed, the former is less of an affront to liberty because it is transient and helps save lives. It’s unlikely that any court will rule that people have a constitutional right to go maskless during a pandemic. The Supreme Court has, in the past, supported local health initiatives during pandemics even if they interfere with personal liberty.

Finally, I would like to thank our new superintendent, Dr. Treece, for responding to comments made during the meeting in an intelligent and professional manner. She stood up for the children and the science. We are not out of this pandemic. Indeed, as I was writing this, I learned that Alabama is completely out of ICU beds due to a surge in COVID patients. Please get your information from the experts and not the internet. Let’s help keep everyone safe, and free.

Michael Coco, RN, Esq. 
Titusville, NJ

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