Other Voices: Viral ignorance creates unjustified anger

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Rockingham County Schools is one of more than 30 districts in the state that have reversed earlier decisions to make masks optional.

It wasn’t easy, but the Rockingham County Board of Education rightly changed course during a heated emergency meeting in which a Harvard-trained pediatrician and infectious disease expert was called a “liar” and a “sell-out,” among other terms of endearment.

Citing a “big uptick in clusters of infection,” Dr. Zack Moore, a section chief for the state Department of Health and Human Services, added that there “are individual schools with 50 cases coming right out of the gate.”

Despite a lower risk of infection among young people, Moore said via Zoom, “it does happen. We’ve seen the rate of hospitalization for children going up rapidly for ages 5-17.”

As RockingmanNow’s Susie C. Spear reported, the anti-mask-mandate contingent in the audience had heard enough. In a loud and mostly hostile room, Moore’s call was cut short. He was heckled off his virtual stage.

“What is this, Nazi Germany?” a mask-mandate opponent said.

Other parents threatened to home school their children rather than have them wear masks. Still others threatened to vote the bums out who had dared to protect the best interests of their children.

The board’s critics seemed most rankled that it had changed its mind based on the facts.

In the age of COVID, the best-laid plans of mice and men have to be written in pencil. As a more virulent new strain of the coronavirus takes hold, what goes today may not go tomorrow, or next week.

That only makes sense. When conditions shift, so should public health precautions. Keep an eraser nearby.

At least some who spoke from the floor at the Rockingham County school board meeting seemed to appreciate that.

Young students may be especially vulnerable because they are not old enough to be vaccinated, Ashley Bullock, the mother of a student, reminded the school board. “This mask is all the protection they have, and they can’t survive going virtual at all. Rockingham County is a small county, but we’ve lost a number of people. … My 6-year-old doesn’t deserve (to get sick). They have to wear masks. We can’t afford to have an outbreak and shut down (schools).’’

When the smoke had cleared, the board voted had 4-3 to change course. To judge some of the reactions, you would have thought they’d spit on the flag.

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools resumed classes with in-person instruction — also with a mask mandate for indoor activities.

It is encouraging to see students in classrooms. Many had lost ground academically when the county schools pivoted to mostly virtual instruction as the coronavirus spread.

Sadly, the politicization of a public health issue is one reason the road back to normal has been so long and hard and riddled with asterisks.

Local entertainment venues are booking acts again, but hoping that no more virus-related cancellations will be necessary.

Most colleges and universities have resumed in-person classes, but COVID clusters have emerged in a dormitory at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The best we can do is hope more people can agree on facts and overwhelming evidence.

Judging from that scene in Rockingham County, as well as other examples of what we might call “vigorous denial of the obvious,” we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Now that the FDA has officially approved the Pfizer vaccine, maybe we’ll see some vaccine reluctance disappear.

Back in Rockingham County, amid a chorus of rants from grown-ups, came the voice of reason from an elementary school student.

“We should have to wear masks for our own safety,” Kiyan Moore of Eden said, “because if we don’t, we will end up being sick with the coronavirus.”

From the mouths of babes …

— Winston-Salem Journal