Indiana’s Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch summed up the state’s plan for controlling COVID-19’s Delta variant in schools Wednesday by saying such controls are being left to local school districts.

That situation concerns us, because infections statewide and locally are rising, and local school districts are not planning to take basic precautions when schools open next week.

None of the Goshen-area school districts will require students to wear masks in their buildings. Federal transportation rules do require students to be masked while riding buses. But geez, this mixed effort is not the way to squash a pandemic.

THE CDC RECOMMENDS that all school children and educators be masked at all times. While the CDC itself has presented mixed messages on masking during the pandemic, this most recent guidance makes a lot of sense. Classrooms and schools are closed environments where the air can quickly become contaminated with the COVID virus. Masking offers some measure of protection and a way to lessen the spread of the disease.

In addition, parents should get their children 12 and older vaccinated against the virus before school starts, or as quickly as possible after schoolhouses open.

“Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agency states. “Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.”

In addition to masking and vaccinations, the CDC states, “Screening, testing, ventilation, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection are also important layers of prevention to keep schools safe.”

Elkhart, LaGrange, Kosciusko and Noble counties are now all listed at the yellow warning level for COVID. Just a few weeks ago the counties were at the safer blue level. While these counties are experiencing a much-reduced rate of infection compared to the peaks reached in late November 2020, the idea with vaccinating staff and older students and masking in schools is to prevent the rate from climbing back toward that record point.

We know that the chance of surviving COVID is 98.2% for those infected. Yet there are also long-term debilitating conditions created by the disease.

We wouldn’t be recommending the masking of students, except local and state vaccinations rates against COVID-19 are abysmally low. The rate for Elkhart County is 34.89%; LaGrange County 19.29%; Kosciusko County 33.29%; and 32.65% in Noble County.

Hoosiers in general also lag in vaccinations. The Indiana State Department of Health data shows just 51% of the state’s population have been vaccinated and that 22.2% of children 12-15 years old have been inoculated. For those 16-19 years old the percent is 35.1%

FOR SOME REASON a large number of local people believe they will naturally avoid becoming infected, or may only have mild systems with no long-term effects. Yes, some people may remain healthy through shear luck. However, one student who becomes infected with the virus, even mildly, becomes a carrier. When that student returns to their home, they become a spreader to the rest of an unvaccinated family — and all families have members who are more vulnerable to serious complications from the virus, and even death. We constantly wonder why anyone would willingly place their loved ones at risk when a vaccine can prevent or reduce the seriousness of an infection.

Our hope is, if school boards don’t impose masking rules, parents, students and school staff will use their common sense and take charge of their own health by getting vaccinated and choosing to wear masks.

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