Lawton doctor advises students mask up as school starts

Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 7:16 PM CDT
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LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) - As children in southwest Oklahoma return to school and administrators are looking for ways to protect students, the Oklahoma State Medical Association is going to court to fight a law signed by Governor Kevin Stitt that prevents school districts from implementing mask mandates.

Cache Public Schools welcomed back many students who went virtual last year during the pandemic on Wednesday.

According to Superintendent Chad Hance, students need in-person engagement with teachers.

He believes it’s the most important piece of the puzzle when it comes to education, but the administration also wants to keep the kids safe.

“Right now, we’re relying on personal choice, leaving that up to the parent,” Hance said. “Obviously, if parents feel more comfortable with kids wearing a mask, they’re encouraged to do so. We’re recommending masks, but we’re leaving that up to personal choice.”

Dr. Daniel Joyce serves as an Oklahoma Medical Association board member.

He said the best way to protect children under 12 who can’t get vaccinated right now is to make sure they’re masking up at school, which can be a breeding grounds for illnesses.

“The school board, which is made up of parents, and the superintendent should have the ability to know what’s going on in their community and have the flexibility to say, ‘Hey, things are getting bad. We had a bunch of people come down with it. We need to implement that mask policy.’ It should be a local decision, not a state decision,” Joyce said.

There are about 2100 students on the Cache campus.

If the law is reversed, Hance said he’s not sure if Cache would put another mask mandate in place, but the school board would consider it if necessary.

“As we navigate through this and we see more cases arise and if we’re having more sick kids, then yeah, we would definitely have a look at it, without a doubt because last year, we did really well with other sickness, such as flu, strep throat etcetera, so they do help cut down some things,” Hance said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, children accounted for 3-5% of COVID cases. Now they make up about 15% of cases.

Joyce said he hears criticism that kids can’t wear masks, but when parents lead by example, it’s possible.

“I know there’s difficulty with masking and certain populations. Some can do it, some can’t, but the vast majority -- we gotta protect our children. We GOTTA protect our children,” Joyce said. “As a parent and as a physician, we gotta protect our children, and if it can save some other child by doing it, then let’s do it.”

Joyce hopes vaccines for children 12 and under will be approved in the fall to help curb the spread of the virus.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court could decide to strike down the law or leave it as is next Wednesday.

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