One thing stands between school-age kids and the quick closure of public schools that could become swamps of the COVID-19 coronavirus: masks that reduce transmission of the airborne virus.

Masks and vaccination of students over the age 12 are the only measures that have a chance of keeping schools from becoming completely overwhelmed by the virus.

It’s only August. Hospitals are already floundering in the face of a tsunami of new, mostly unvaccinated patients suffering from COVID-19. And, unlike last year, local students are about to start school in person.

The idea that medical misinformation and political belief be weighed equally against the safety of students and teachers in any debate about masks is beyond ludicrous.

Earlier this week, Blaine County School Board Chairman Keith Roark quickly ended a meeting that had been called to consider mask requirements for the school year. Meeting rules called for the public to wear masks in the room.

Faced with a group of about 20 maskless onlookers who refused to comply and one person who insisted on standing, Roark deemed them out of order and ended the meeting. Good for him.

The board had already received more than 150 written comments, with strong support from the medical community for the proposed rule. The rule would require students and teachers to wear masks while the coronavirus is tipping the high transmission mark.

Blaine County and most of the state are at that transmission level—or worse. The delta variant of the virus, 2.5 times more contagious than the original, is cracking capacities in the state’s hospitals—again.

Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Kathryn Turner points to statistics that predict that Idaho may be headed to 30,000 cases per week in October, or about 4,300 per day. The one-day record so far was 2,298 on Dec. 9 last year, when almost no one was vaccinated.

With the numbers of acutely ill COVID patients skyrocketing and taking up more space than ever in hospitals, the St. Luke’s Health System has again “paused” elective surgeries

Hospitals say they may soon look for guidance to a state-level committee on how to ration care, or in blunter terms, decide who would get the chance to live and who would not.

With all of this in the background, the debate over whether to require students and teachers to wear masks in schools is trivial. It’s a debate that ranks up there with arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Masks may seem a puny weapon against a virus, but they proved themselves last winter and reduced the spread of COVID-19 and the flu and the common cold, too. They prevented the unthinkable double whammy of COVID-19 and flu, which will become a risk again soon.

We cannot allow this coronavirus to decimate education, the economy and the American population again, but it will if we do no more to stop it.

We learned last year that remote learning doesn’t work well. The Blaine County School Board must do everything in its power to keep students and teachers in schools and to keep them safe.


“Our View” represents the opinion of the newspaper editorial board, which is made up of members of its board of directors. Remarks may be directed to editorialboard@mtexpress.com.

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