COVID Questionnaire: What Some Wilton Residents are Thinking on Mask Changes in School

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A few weeks ago, GOOD Morning Wilton asked readers to respond to a questionnaire asking for their thoughts about whether or not the district should require students and teachers to wear masks.

It’s important to point out that the questionnaire was published on Jan. 31, at a time when case rates were much higher, although steeply declining after the peak of the Omicron variant wave. It was also at a point in time when Gov. Ned Lamont had not yet announced his decision to allow individual school districts to set mask-wearing policy.

We’re sharing some of the comments and answers readers gave us in the hope that it will allow the community to understand the different perspectives and interests. GMW provided people responding to the questionnaire the option to choose whether or not they wanted to be anonymous, and we are only publishing comments from respondents who gave us permission to use their names with their answers. The quotes below are the most representative of the wider array of answers we received.

Please note:  We opted to leave out answers that mentioned legislators, the political divide, often-cited rhetoric about mask-wearing, and any general references to “the science.” Unless respondents included links to published peer-reviewed studies or references, we did not include it below.

GMW will follow up with another version of the questionnaire once the district has spent some time in the mask-optional status.

Diane Kuzco: Support universal school mask mandate—No. [No child in Wilton Schools]  “Let parents, faculty, staff and students make their own choice. Education is about learning to think freely, critically and making decisions with proper research. Let people have free choice. … I work in the schools so I see kids in masks all day. First, most of the masks they wear aren’t doing anything anyway. Second, masks are impacting younger kids’ speech, which in turn puts pressure on our … teachers. And we are causing great harm to our children’s mental health by continuing to wear masks. Children have anxiety over whether they will get sick, get someone else sick if they take off their masks. This is a virus that will keep mutating and we have to learn to live with it. Mandating masks and emergency use vaccines is not going to make it go away.

Dan Hage:  Support universal school mask mandate—No. [Child in Wilton High School] Answering “What metric would make a return to mandatory mask protocol acceptable”: Maybe some measure of spread, like in the first three weeks of January when the virus was spreading like wildfire and we knew it was going to be relatively short-lived. In my opinion, constant mask-wearing by children (again we are at two years now) is unhealthy from a mental and social aspect and these kids need to engage more socially to grow, and wearing masks for going on two years now is causing long-lasting damage. Obviously, I don’t have scientific data on this but it is my belief that we are underestimating the negative effects all these restrictions and mandates are having on our youth. As an adult you may think, “Hey what’s the big deal, wear a mask, it doesn’t hurt anyone,” but I think it does harm our youth.”

“I know my child has had much less personal interaction with her teachers over the past 2 years to the point that she didn’t even recognize one of them when they took their mask off once to take a drink. It has damaged that teacher/student connection to the point where she is wondering how to ask a teacher for a recommendation because they barely know each other. Also, the social interaction between students has been reduced because when one wears a mask they are less inviting to others to approach so what has happened is that the students are even more “clicky” and only hanging out with their closest friends which in my opinion is very sad and not a healthy society.

Ahmed Fareed: Support universal school mask mandate—No. [Children in Miller-Driscoll] “For two years, we have all been doing our own risk assessment, weighing so many variables. Every person has a right to their own opinion on this. For our family, with two young children who have been vaccinated, I do believe the benefits of wearing a mask (something we have gladly done for the duration of the pandemic) no longer outweigh the potential downsides, be they social, speech, or otherwise.”

Hillary Morrissy: Support universal school mask mandate—No. “We are fast approaching a time when mask use should become optional. Positivity and case rates are dropping (see ct.gov for daily case numbers and rates) and we have a high rate of vaccination in our town that protects largely against hospitalization, serious illness and death.

“While students are masked in school, we know, anecdotally, that students are not masking outside of school (like in social gatherings or meals in restaurants). Additionally, there are plenty of pictures on social media from district sporting events that show masks below noses and even below chins. At this point, my teenager is vaccinated and boosted. He’s been in close contact with positive cases while maskless and has yet to test positive, which I entirely attribute to his vaccination status. We are comfortable as a family with the lower COVID risks to the vaccinated and boosted. I do not say this lightly. It took many months off of an immune-suppressing medication for me to finally develop antibodies after vaccination this December, and even now my levels are nowhere near those of other vaccinated people. But I cannot expect the vast majority of people (330 million Americans) to continue to wear masks indefinitely to protect me. I can and will choose to remain masked until I am comfortable.

“I would like an accurate count of the vaccination rate in our students. I would like them to set some baselines for infection rates, etc. for when masking would be imposed once more. I would like teachers to be provided with properly fitted N95 masks so that they feel comfortable in a classroom where students may not all be masked. I’d like to see better air circulation in the schools through HEPA filters, fans and open windows. I would like accommodations to be made so that medically fragile students who are in school be permitted to eat elsewhere than the cafeteria, the one place I believe in school transmission is highly likely.”

Carrie Preisano: Support universal school mask mandate—No. [Student in Middlebrook] “I am concerned about our children’s mental health and lack of connections to other children and their teachers. They cannot see if another child is smiling or sad. They do not know what some of their classmates or teachers even look like without the mask. I know the isolation of quarantine was not good for my son last year after being exposed three times and missing 18 days of school. So, I prefer them being in school even after being exposed and testing negative. I strongly feel that we could be potentially exposed daily so quarantining for that I do not find necessary unless tested positive. I am comfortable sending my child to school without a mask after being vaccinated.”

George Krafick: Support universal school mask mandate—No. [Student in Cider Mill and WHS] “It’s time to move beyond just the number of cases there are and start asking what is the outcome of those cases? COVID vaccines have dramatically reduced the effects of the virus. These vaccines combined with the much milder omicron variant have significantly reduced the impact of the virus in adults. According to an article published in The New York Times [Jan. 31] the odds of a boosted adult dying from COVID are 1-1,000,000. The severity of the Omicron variant is also lower than previous variants of COVID among children, especially those that have been vaccinated. Severe illness from COVID in children is rare.”

Leigh Anne Floyd: Support universal school mask mandate—No. [Student WHS] “Some children can’t articulate why they don’t like wearing masks… some may not even remember not having to wear masks… think about that. A 5-year-old today may not recall ever having to not wear a mask. I do not have a young child, but I do have an elder[ly] mother who can articulate her position. Similar to our schools, she is in an assisted living facility that requires all staff to wear masks. She has had Covid (Omicron) and been fine. Perhaps similar to some children, she can’t understand people when they wear a mask. She feels very “removed” from others because she is limited in her interaction with staff (teachers/administrators). She can’t read others’ emotions — imagine not being able to see someone smile… And the activities/meals are different because conversation with others while separated is difficult. How can we continue to ask our children to be so isolated from the world? From each other? It is heart-wrenching.”

Rick Gerard: Support universal school mask mandate—No. [Students at Miller-Driscoll] “My 6-year-old twins have spent the first two years of their school lives unable to see their friends’ faces, see their teacher’s face moving when she is teaching them how to read, etc. Socializing is as important as reading and writing and they will never get these years back. I want to say that Wilton schools have done an amazing job at getting kids back in person. We love all the teachers we’ve had they are making the best of this situation. But the least at risk have paid the heaviest price for too long. It’s time to live.”

Matt Dellapina: Support universal school mask mandate—No. [Student in Miller-Driscoll] “My child requires some special school services in regards to social and emotional well-being. Part of my child’s obstacle has to do with reading social cues, understanding particular phrasing, and knowing the difference between something said jokingly versus earnestly. Unfortunately, these struggles came to a head in his first classroom this year, resulting in his transfer to another classroom. Now, of course, I’m self-aware enough to know that I could be scapegoating masking when in fact a myriad of other factors could have contributed to this upheaval. But having half of his mates’ and teachers’ faces covered during moments of higher stress, how can that be of any help to such a kid? In speaking to fellow Wilton parents, I have consistently found that I am in no way alone. Kids are resilient, sure. It has become the convenient drumbeat phrase. But kids are also masters of bottling trauma, absorbing their parents’ neuroses, and accepting a dimmed reality when it becomes habitual.”

“I am happy to comply with any vaccination requirements and closer symptomatic monitoring to best insure a healthy and safe school. But in a world with vaccine and knowledge abundance, I believe social distancing and masking should finally be put aside (to the same place we put washing our groceries) for a world of warmth, closeness, gathering, faces, laughter, concerts, smiles, frowns, the full richness of human stuff they’ve barely glimpsed these past two years.”

Katie McCabe: Support universal school mask mandate—Yes. [Students in Miller-Driscoll and Cider Mill] “My fully vaccinated daughter had COVID over winter break. For her it was a lingering cold. Thankfully we had canceled plans with grandparents before she tested positive (after two negative tests). Had she seen them — one lives in a retirement community, another is severely immunocompromised — things could have gone much worse. This is not just about keeping kids from getting sick; we have to protect the vulnerable and our healthcare systems.”

Answering “What metric would make relaxing the mandatory mask protocol or instituting a mask optional policy acceptable”: “1) recommended by CDC; 2) case numbers are in the “green” range; 3) student vaccination rates are > 90%.”

Wendy English: Support universal school mask mandate—Yes. [Student in WHS] “Masks protect our children as well as spread to others which is particularly important for those who spend time with older, more vulnerable adults. I am a proponent of in-person learning to enable academic and social development and don’t personally think masks impede those goals.”

“My son sees his 80-year-old grandparents on a weekly basis so I want to take every reasonable precaution to mitigate the risk that we expose them.”

Answering “If there is no mask mandate in place, are there alternative COVID safety protocols that should be put in place in the schools?”: “Vaccinations should be required as well as random COVID testing.”

Ulysses Squitieri: Support universal school mask mandate—Yes. [Student in WHS]  “I am a student at the high school. I think it is very important to hear the opinion of a student when it comes to mask mandates, since many parents just speak for the students and don’t actually listen to the students. In regard to the mask mandate, I fully support it and approve of it. I believe the mask mandate should be in place through the rest of the school year. However, after this school year, I believe that masks should be completely optional in schools. This is a virus that is not going away. We have to learn to live with this virus.”

Answering “If there is no mask mandate in place, are there alternative COVID safety protocols that should be put in place in the schools?”: “I think vaccinations (and boosters) should be required for everyone, similarly to how young children need to receive numerous vaccines in order to go to school. I also think social distancing can’t really be enforced anymore.”

Julie Corbett: Support universal school mask mandate—Yes. [Student in Miller-Driscoll] “It’s a slightly loaded question… If you mean, should masks be required right now [Jan. 31] under the current infection rates and conditions, then yes, absolutely. If you mean, should masks be required in the future, then it depends on a number of factors. We know that masks are effective at lessening transmission of COVID. We know that with good mitigation strategies, in-school transmission is low (though this is pre-Omicron data), but masks also help protect the kids from spreading other non-covid illnesses that could also result in absentee days for staff, students, and younger siblings.”

“While Omicron seems to be less severe than prior variants, the fact that many of us still have under-5 kids that are not vaccinated means that we are constantly in and out of daycare/pre-school quarantines. We are constantly walking on eggshells waiting for another 10-day close-contact quarantine and daycares to be shut down again. It is practically impossible to work and function with this uncertainty. Any normal cold or sniffle sends us into a frantic panic. Our 5-year-old doesn’t love wearing a mask, but he also isn’t bothered by it and knows we do it to protect ourselves, our families, and others. What he really misses is inside playdates with friends, going to museums, inside activities, etc. If we can keep wearing masks for a little bit longer, he’ll be able to do those things again soon, and our 2-year-old will be able to experience all of these things for the first time!”

David F. Clune: Support universal school mask mandate—Yes. [Grandchildren are students in WHS] “Our family members of a previous generation were stricken with polio and suffered from the disability it caused for decades. At that time there was no vaccine for polio. We have vaccines for COVID and the CDC urges mask-wearing while indoors. Why risk lives, and years of disability by not following the guidelines from the CDC?”

Mike Love: Support universal school mask mandate—Yes. [Students in Miller-Driscoll and Cider Mill] “Even if you’re somehow not worried about kids or their family members getting seriously ill from COVID, as long as kids and families are expected to quarantine for 5-10 days when they do get it, that by itself seems to me like enough reason to keep wearing masks; my daughter’s life is far, far less disrupted by wearing a mask than it would be by missing two weeks of school and theater rehearsals and ballet classes and violin classes.”

“Leave the mandates in place until summer and re-evaluate then. The next few months are going to give us a lot of information about the durability of vaccine protection, the potential for any further variants to cause another spike like Omicron, the potential for new vaccines to do a better job blocking transmission, the potential of boosters for 5- to 11-year-olds and of initial shots for under-5s, and the possibility of introducing school vaccine mandates (which I expect would enjoy robust support, given that a sizable majority of WPS students are vaccinated). I also hope even if they do lift mandates at the start of the year they keep in mind the possibility of a temporary one for a couple of months if we see another winter spike.”

David Mellars: Support universal school mask mandate—Yes. [Student in Miller-Driscoll] “I have two children under 5 who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated. Until they can be vaccinated masking in school protects the virus from entering our home.”

Dr. Caroline Gulati: Support universal school mask mandate—Yes. [Student in Cider Mill] “COVID is one of the most deadly, transmissible viral infections that we have encountered. It has killed more people than the annual flu & is as deadly or more deadly among children. It should not be taken lightly nor should preventative strategies, treatments, and guidance be dictated by political motivation. Masks prevent spread and save lives. Until more students are vaccinated, and even have the chance to be vaccinated, masks are the next best line of defense. Once enough children are vaccinated, either by pediatric guidelines, (which are likely once the vaccine is out of EUA use), or by parent initiation, (such as with measles or flu), then we can start discussing removal of masks. Schools have had low transmission rates due to mandatory masking. Let’s not change course now. In-person learning is more beneficial than any drawbacks to children wearing a mask for the school day.”

“My 4-year-old is too young to be vaccinated. I have parents on immunosuppressive medications that can’t afford to get covid, yet, they are distraught over missing time spent with grandchildren.”

Roza Petrova: Support universal school mask mandate—Yes. [Student in Middlebrook] “To me masks fall in a category ‘anything to keep schools open with in-person instruction.’ I have a child suffering from anxiety and any change in routine, instability in schedule or just the unknown creates major drama. The constant changes in the past two years from in-person to remote to hybrid back to in-person has taken a toll on our family so we are in support of anything we can do to keep the stability. Masks also allow the kids suffering from anxiety and depression to participate in before/after school activities that are so important for their mental health like singing, theater, etc. without risking spreading the virus or getting sick.”

Sarah Rhee: Support universal school mask mandate—Yes. [Student in Miller-Driscoll and Cider Mill] “My youngest is 3-years-old and cannot get vaccinated yet. My sister is a cancer survivor. My parents are in their 80s. My dad is diabetic. Parents of really young kids are getting left behind as everyone rushes to get back to pre-pandemic life. I’ve got three kids — one in preschool, one in M-D, and one in CM. In-person school has been essential to all of my kids’ growth and development, and masking has been a crucial layer of protection for my loved ones (in addition to other mitigation measures, such as vaccinations and social distancing). Nobody wants to mask forever, but eliminating masks right now is premature.”

Jennifer Morello: Support universal school mask mandate—Not all but some. [Student in WHS] “Wearing a mask is what one does out of respect for other people’s health concerns, including concerns related to family members who are not in the school building. I also recognize the social, emotional and educational toll that mask-wearing is taking on students and staff. Perhaps the schools can require masks in areas that offer no choice in location, such as the cafeteria food line, buses, assembly spaces and health offices, while offering a mask or mask-free option in other areas, such as classrooms. In those areas, the respective teacher would have the authority to either require masks of everyone or give individual students the choice of wearing or not wearing a mask. I don’t know what to say about hallways and bathrooms. It’s definitely easier to just have one rule — masks — and leave it at that. But I would like to see a beginning to the end of masks….”