WENATCHEE — About 130 people concerned about current masking guidelines for students joined this month’s online Chelan-Douglas board of health meeting. It was a much larger crowd than usual.
Many at the Monday meeting criticized the state’s guidelines requiring that students wear masks, arguing it is unnecessary and even harmful. Some said they were frustrated from never getting straight answers about masking from the state or school superintendents.
Some at the meeting belong to Unmask Our Kids WA, a group of community members advocating a repeal of state Department of Health mask mandates for students.
The eight-member board, which oversees the work of the Chelan-Douglas Health District, is composed of elected officials from the two-county area and surrounding cities.
The board meets monthly with the health district’s health officer and administrator, with meetings typically drawing little public attendance. The last time someone submitted a public comment was in January, according to board of health minutes.
A handful of members submitted public comments during Monday’s meeting. Comments were limited to about 10 minutes during the meeting.
Rebecca Wilkinson, a 14-year Chelan County resident, said the decision of whether to require masking for students should be left to school boards.
As of the most recent changes made on July 6, face coverings are required by the state for all school staff, students and visitors, according to the state Department of Health.
Public schools, health care settings and public transit are among the few exceptions where masking is required, regardless of whether someone is vaccinated.
In other public settings, like restaurants and concerts, masks are not required if someone is fully vaccinated.
The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is the only vaccine approved for minors but has only been approved for people 12 and older so not every student has access to the vaccine.
Face coverings are not required outdoors. Find details and a list of the face mask exemptions here: wwrld.us/k12.
The state has said it likely will update K-12 COVID-19 requirements through the summer and before the start of the school year, but has not indicated how requirements might change.
Heidi Hartnell, a kindergarten teacher at Vale Elementary School in Cashmere, said at the board meeting that masking made it difficult to teach, especially for young children just learning the correct formation of words.
Others who submitted public comment or commented in the Zoom call’s chat claimed that masks were ineffective tools at preventing the spread of COVID-19 or were harmful to children which contradicts guidelines published by state Department of Health.
State guidelines are based on existing science, public health opinion, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wearing a mask does not raise carbon dioxide levels in the air you breathe, according to the CDC.
And face coverings and 6 feet of physical distancing significantly slow or stop the spread of COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health.