During Thursday’s Scottsboro City Schools Board of Education meeting, a trio of three doctors, Dr. Mandi Bell, Dr. Hardin Coleman and Dr. Dennis Basila, spoke to the board about masks and sharing their opinion on why they should once again mandate masks in schools.
Bell spoke to the board first, reading aloud a letter to the board that she initially was just going to send to them.
“I started writing a letter prior to the starting of school this year in support of masks. I was planning to submit the letter for your review this week, however as things have changed and the environment has changed, I just felt like I wanted to be here to address it in person,” Bell said.
To begin, Bell explained the reason as to why there are no randomized control studies with masking.
“The issue is if you do a controlled study, you’re going to have to have a group of children who are not masked and a group of children who are and you’re going to have to put them in the face of COVID and there’s major ethical issues with that,” Bell said.
However, Bell suggested the board look at some observational studies, some of which she referenced in her letter. Bell also stated that the masking of students and staff is recommended from the American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of over 67,000 pediatricians. Bell also states the importance of in-person learning for children and how it’s good not only for intellectual learning for kids but social learning as well.
“In person education won’t be possible and won’t be a reality if we can’t keep schools open and maintain a safe and inclusive learning environment. We’re aware that three schools in north Alabama have already had to close down for several weeks since the beginning of school,” Bell said. “We want to prevent this interruption in our school district. If COVID cases increase, it can spread rapidly amongst the unvaccinated population and potentially moreso among those that do not wear masks or socially distance.”
Next to speak was Coleman, who first thanked Bell for her thoughts and her sharing of studies and statistics. Coleman focused his speech more towards personal insight and experiences he’s had throughout the year. The first observation he noted is that last year, kids just weren’t getting sick.
“I didn’t see them last year. We didn’t see the colds, I didn’t see as many flu, we didn’t see as much strep throat, I thought I was going to have to get a second job,” Coleman said. “They just weren’t getting sick and the biggest difference was the masks. Maybe it helped prevent COVID in schools too. Fortunately, by God’s grace, children were not infected as much by those previous types of COVID but now we know that they are. You look at the space around us, they’re in trouble and we’re in trouble and I think our kids could be next.”
Coleman insisted that masks were a barrier for protection and, while not perfect, it makes a big difference. He then shared a story about a patient he once had. The patient had a stroke that affected her speech and balance. While she recovered and they celebrated that recovery, Coleman and his colleagues feared that it could happen again, and it could be worst. Coleman and his colleague agreed to do more to prevent this from happening again and that, in the scenario that another stroke did happen, he and his colleague could say that they did everything possible.
“When we had this COVID spike last winter, fortunately, it wasn’t very devastating for our young people. Maybe it was kind of like the stroke that wasn’t that bad but the next one that comes could be worst and I think the next one that’s coming is going to be worst in our students,” Coleman said. “At the end of each day, each week, each month, this is what I shared with our patient. I want us to be able to sit down and say, ‘if something happens, we did everything that we could’. If we’re doing everything that we could, then that’s all we can do. I believe that mask wearing in schools, I believe that we’ll at least be able to say we were doing everything that we could if something happens and we have an outbreak. If we don’t [wear masks] and have an outbreak, we won’t be able to say that. I hope that my board members, friends, neighbors, parents, that at the end of every day, week and month coming up that we’ll be able to say that we did everything we could.”
Last to speak was Basila, who spoke about the delta variant itself. Basila said that what doctors are seeing with the delta variant is “different.” On top of the recent spread of the delta variant, Basila has been seeing kids show up with other respiratory diseases.
“In the past week, I’ve been working longer hours and seeing more patients per day than I have in the last three years that I’ve been in Scottsboro because kids have been so sick with respiratory illnesses,” Basila said. “I’m not just talking about sniffles, kids coming in requiring breathing treatments, wheezing, not eating or drinking, being truly sick.”
Basila also spoke on a recent surge of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), which was unheard of in this time of year. This causes an issue because RSV patients will have some inflammation remain in the lungs for the next few months, causing even a common cold will make the child more sick than normal. This inflammation combined with the delta variant, which has shown to target younger ages, could cause a severe problem.
“We’re looking at a greater risk not of what we saw before where you had a runny nose, your mom and dad are sick, so you get swabbed and you got COVID and you’re fine, these kids are going to get really sick. They’re going to end up in hospitals, they’re going to end up in emergency rooms,” Basila said. “I contacted one of my friends who’s a pediatric ER doctor who works in Fort Worth. Their hospital is full, the children are flooding the ER, the vets are full. We see that Florida and Texas are huge hotspots in the nation now for adults and for children, but the resources aren’t there. I can tell you right now, our community is going to continue to work to support our children… If this does continue to work at the rate it’s going, the resources aren’t going to be there.”