About 28 million children ages 5 to 11 are eligible for the Pfizer shot now that a COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for the younger age group. (Getty Images)
Despite an unprecedented number of coronavirus infections in children, 19 Louisiana House Republicans sent a letter to Gov. John Bel Edwards Monday, asking him to rescind the face mask mandate for K-12 schools and allow local school districts to decide their own mitigation measures.
“We believe this is a blatant disregard of [state education] Superintendent [Cade] Brumley’s, local superintendents, and parents’ authority,” the letter stated. “After all, parents know what is best for their children. Many children have already suffered from social, emotional, and mental distress related to masking.”
The letter did not include evidence or examples of face masks causing children to suffer. It repeats many of the same arguments found in a legal opinion issued last week by Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has been trying to fight the governor’s emergency health orders since last year.
The letter also comes the week before the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) is expected to discuss school masking requirements. A copy of the letter was also sent to Brumley and BESE President Sandy Holloway.
Holloway told the Advocate that the mask mandate was added to BESE’s August meeting agenda after Landry raised objections to the governor’s masking requirement. But she said she doesn’t know whether school board members will want to challenge Edwards’ authority.
Brumley hasn’t been willing to say whether he supports a statewide mask mandate either.
“I’ve leaned to local control the whole time. But I’m also not an attorney and I’m not a medical doctor, and so we’re going to have see how that plays out,” he said about the mask mandate Wednesday according to the Associated Press.
Lawmakers who signed the letter aren’t speaking for the majority of the Legislature. All 19 signees come from the 105-member House. None of Louisiana’s 39 state senators were involved. None of the people signing the letter are in a position of leadership in the Legislature either.
Edwards, a Democrat, reinstated the mask mandate for most indoor spaces — not just schools — on Aug. 2 after health officials and hospitals from across the state pleaded for statewide mitigation measures to help slow a massive surge of the delta-variant coronavirus that has pushed hospital capacity to the brink of collapse and has infected a larger percentage of children than previous strains of COVID-19.
Rep. Mark Wright (R-Covington), one of the House members who signed the letter, said he believes the delta variant is not as dangerous as previous strains and will be gone in less than a month.
“This variant is nothing like last year…moves much faster but far less dangerous…it will be over by September,” said Wright, who has been acting chairman of the House Education Committee, via text message.
Louisiana’s recent surge in hospitalizations would suggest otherwise. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has been higher than all previous records every day for the past week — and is continuing to tick up. The number of reported COVID-19 deaths on Monday and Tuesday are also higher than they have been in the last six months. Although young children are still the least likely to die or suffer severe complications from the virus, the number of pediatric infections and hospitalizations has reached unprecedented heights.
State health officials attribute this surge to the highly-infectious delta variant and the large percentage of Louisiana residents, particularly in the 18 to 29 age group, who remain unvaccinated.
Several Louisiana pediatricians and other doctors have praised the governor’s decision to reimpose the mask mandate. Last week, Mark Kline, the physician-in-chief at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, said he expected the mask mandate would cut down on transmission — potentially saving the lives of children.
“I am as worried about our children as I have ever been,” Kline said. “Children are being heavily impacted by this organism and this pandemic at this point.”
Wright said the idea for the letter came from Rep. Kathy Edmonston (R-Gonzales), who could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Although the letter said the governor’s mask mandate disregards the state superintendent’s authority, it is unclear if any of the 19 Republicans would support Brumley or the state school board’s authority to issue a statewide mandate.
“I don’t know about that…can’t speak for everyone, but I’d support his original decision…let districts decide,” Wright said.
Gov. Edwards has no plans to rescind the mask mandate but does plan to respond to the Republicans’ letter, according to Edwards’ spokesperson Shauna Sanford.
Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly attributed statements to Rep. Rick Edmonds (R-Baton Rouge). Rep. Mark Wright (R-Covington) made the statements.
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