Damakant Jayshi

A pediatrician and medical advisor to nurses in the Wausau School District on Monday requested the Board of Education to require mandatory indoor masking in schools.

Dr. Jeffrey Lamont, a Wausau-based pediatrician and advisor to nurses in the district, asked the Board members to implement the safety protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), Marathon County Health Department, Wisconsin Depart of Public Instruction and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) – all of which have recommended indoor masking in school, regardless of vaccination status. 

“COVID-19 mitigation strategy, particularly mask wearing should be mandatory,” Dr. Lamont said during a meeting of the school Board, citing “four justifications” for his request – medical, moral, financial and socio-political. He pointed out what most credible health agencies have been saying for over a year: Masks work, especially if they are high quality or surgical masks. Dr. Lamont stressed that for masks to work, everyone inside the school should wear one for maximum efficacy.

He questioned the WSD’s strategy of “stratified response to Covid based on incidents,” emphasizing the Board had the moral responsibility to act before more children became sick, while equating the WSD approach on Covid to “canaries in coal mines.” It was financially wise too, he added, noting the cost of masks compared to the costs related to contracting COVID-19.

Dr. Lamont further said the Board had the power and the responsibility to ensure the safety of children in schools, pointing out they cannot be protected and cannot be vaccinated.

Children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for any of the three approved vaccines, though Pfizer-BioNTech have filed for approval for COVID-19 vaccine for children 5-11 years old with the Food and Drug Administration. The company said it would seek emergency use authorization in the coming weeks. If the FDA grants the EUA, which is expected, then children in that category could be eligible for shots between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Mary Hoefs, who initiated a petition on mandatory masking also asked the Board to introduce mandatory masking. Of the three written comments posted on the Board meeting website, two – Jennifer Hinker and Kasha Oelke – called for mask mandates while the third, Melissa Eades, thanked the Board and school superintendent Dr Keith Hilts for their handling of the “unprecedented times.”

Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth Project that places journalists into local newsrooms. Reach him at damakant@wausaupilotandreview.com.