Thursday, November 24, 2022

On OCDSB's Mask Motion

The OCDSB motion to require masks in all schools but allow exemptions for anyone who finds masks to be a hardship was not passed tonight after a 6-6 tie. Both student trustees also opposed it, but their votes weren't counted in the official tally. Here are three arguments I heard from opposing voices, and my rebuttals: 

Telling people it's required but that they can avoid it by saying it's a hardship for them means it won't change anything. 

Although it was hard to watch concessions be made in the spirit of compromise and the original motion be whittled away bit by bit over two long evenings, it was worse to hear final arguments about it being too watered down to bother passing by the very people who chiseled away at it! Of course that was the plan. The idea of the exemptions was to take any enforcement off the plates of teachers and administrators, but people argued that it makes it no different than a strong recommendation. 

I believe it's not the case that everything will be the same if you require masks but allow people to remove them without penalty. We know that every little bit will help, and we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Sure people who are anti-masks will still not wear them, but I'm hearing from many parents with kids who want to mask, but don't want to be feel weird. If it's stated that they're required unless there's a hardship, then it makes masking the default, and those kids who want to mask will put them back on. In my own classes, almost all my students kept their masks on after the mandates were lifted last April because I told them the risks and the current data, and I asked them to keep them on if possible. That's all it took to get compliance from 95% of them. When the message is, "Masking isn't mandatory, but please respect people's choice to continue masking if they want to," that messaging leaves NOT masking as the default, and then kids feel uncomfortable wearing a mask. The message makes a huge difference even if there's no penalty for non-compliance.

If the situation is so dire, then public health would tell us we need a mandate. Since the CMOH isn't mandating masks, then masks must not be necessary. 

Hmmm... The province gave a really super strong recommendation to wear masks, but Dr. Moore won't say the word "mandate" or even "require" when he tells us again and again that he recommends masking. Moore also argued that he's confident that the brilliant people of Ontario WILL mask with just a recommendation. So, we should be able to take that strong recommendation, and that faith in our brilliance, and turn it into a requirement in places that aren't masking willingly. Because it's entirely possible that Dr. Moore isn't suggesting a mandate despite the crisis in the hospitals right now because it's against his political and/or financial interests. It's a sad state of affairs, but we do have to acknowledge that it IS the case that some political figures don't always act in the best longterm interest of the public when it counters their own personal interests.

The people don't want masks, so we shouldn't have them. Elected officials must follow the will of the people! 

That's often true, but elected officials can't just blindly follow the will of their constituents. There are times when elected officials act against the madding crowd for good reason, particularly when public consensus isn't acknowledging the longterm effects of their desires. One case is when Australia brought in gun legislation in 1997 in the face of huge protests. Few were in favour, but politicians pushed it through anyway, knowing they'd be voted out of office for their decision. And then the country saw a dramatic decline in gun deaths. 25 years later, the legislation still stands, and people are fine with it. It seemed like it was removing their freedoms when first introduced, but now most people, even many of the original protesters, realize that they're more free to walk around not worried about being shot. 

The same is true for masks. Sometimes the general public isn't looking at the entire system and all the players and who it affects; they're just looking at what works for themselves and friends and families. And we all hate masks. It feels like it's a restriction that's against our freedoms, but masks on everyone actually grants us the freedom to access healthcare as needed instead of being shipped across the province - even in an emergency, like this 4-year-old who couldn't access necessary emergency help from the local hospital after being rescued from a fire. Masks grant more people the freedom to access schools, transportation, stores, etc., places that many immunocompromised people can't access right now because masks make others feel encumbered.  

On the first night of the motion introduction, one father spoke of how horrible masks are because his kid is afraid to even hug other children because of them. This is so heartbreaking because it's the pandemic that's making children fearful of hugging one another, not the masks. The masks will help end the pandemic - they're the solution to this problem, but they've become a symbol of the pandemic itself. Getting rid of the masks helps us feel like the pandemic ended, but it just made it so much worse. Check out Canadian pediatric influenza hospitalizations this year versus previous years in the graph below. We didn't get back to normal by removing masks because the PANDEMIC DIDN'T END. We can help reduce the spread by wearing a good mask in public indoor spaces - N95s if possible. If we can't get people to understand this, then we need to make some rules to convince them to do what's best for our communities.

And the other really sad part of this is those two student trustees who will think they've won. They fought against the divisiveness from masks mandates while ignoring the divisiveness created when, without masks, immunocompromised kids must be kept right out of the building. They fought for what's popular instead of what's right. And it's their generation that will begin to see the horrifying results of this loss: deaths from this disease that could go on for a decade after that first mild illness: young people dying of sudden heart attacks months or years after getting SARS-CoV-2 and so many affected by disability, unable to finish school because their brain won't work properly anymore. Some are calling Covid, "Airborne AIDS" because it destroys the immune system in the same way (lymphocytopenia), and with the same timeline: a few months or years after the first infection. They fought for freedom from protections from getting a disease that's being compared to AIDS! Now no level of government will protect them from this virus. They're also not protected from misinformation around the science of covid or from crafting immoral justifications. What's immoral about them? Any time people put their own desires over other people's needs it's immoral. Nobody wants masks. But we need them to protect people, children, from the ravages of Covid: struggling for air in hospital corridors or suddenly dropping dead in their teens or early 20s. The little bit of freedom from a mask today feels like a win, but it's stolen the freedom to breathe, to think, and to live for far too many of them. They just don't know it yet. 

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