JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Thousands of healthcare workers across the state of Tennessee have signed an online letter to the governor, opposing his executive order allowing parents to opt their kids out of mask mandates.
Dr. Blair Reece is an internal medicine physician in Johnson City. She treats COVID-19 patients. She told News Channel 11 that she read the letter, agreed with all of it, and felt compelled to add her signature and make her voice heard.
“We’re in the middle of a terrible pandemic and, unfortunately, it is not over. Masking is an incredibly effective, important tool we have at controlling the spread of COVID-19, especially in our children that are too young to become vaccinated, and it’s important for me as a physician, as a mother that I speak out and try to help educate our community,” Reece said.
On Monday, Gov. Bill Lee announced his plans to sign the executive order.
“I’m signing an executive order that allows parents to opt their children out of a school mask mandate of either a school district or a health board enacts one over the district. Districts will make the decisions that they think are best for their schools, but parents will have the ultimate decision making for their individual child’s health,” Lee explained.
Lee defended his order, saying: “Our hospitals are struggling under the surge of the weight of COVID, but those hospital beds are filled with adults, requiring parents to make children wear masks to solve an adult problem is in my view, the wrong approach.”
The letter stated its opposition to this theory and Reece agreed.
“It is not up to our children, it is not their responsibility, but our children are also part of our communities as well, and I am not asking our children or even my children to do anything differently than I’m doing, I’m asking them to wear a mask just as much as I am,” she said.
Reece explained that it’s very important when thinking about children in this pandemic right now, that folks remember back at the very beginning when healthcare professionals were talking about flattening the curve.
“So while hospitals are filling up with adults with COVID-19, we are seeing more and more children become sick, we know that about 2.5 % of children that test positive end up in the hospitals, those numbers right now will exceed our pediatric hospital capabilities. So we need to flatten the curve for our children right now,” she urged.
Though a less than 3% hospitalization rate does not seem like much, Reece warned that it was actually very concerning.
“It’s a huge number because in general, we do not expect children to become hospitalized at all. We don’t have many pediatric hospital beds across the country because thankfully children typically stay healthy and don’t often require hospitalization. So when we’re talking about tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of children becoming infected, and you talk about 2.5% of those, that is still a very large number.”
When it comes to the governor’s executive order, Reece said she worries about the ramifications.
“It concerns me with a number of students that are opting out of the mask mandate. This only works if we all come together and we all think about each other and not just ourselves, and we all work on protecting each other. We are only as strong as our weakest link, and we have to all wear masks come together, and fight through this,” she said.
In the Tri-Cities region, only the Johnson City School system has implemented a preemptive opt-out option for its mask mandate.
As of Wednesday afternoon, out of the 8,035 enrolled students, the school district reported 1,901 students had opted out of the mask mandate.
“I think it’s important that we follow the science and the science says that masks work, that they are an important tool to help decrease the spread, and we all have a responsibility as adults, to protect our children and to do anything we can to keep them safe. So I would just encourage those school districts to follow the science,” Reece directed at the other school districts in the region.
Reece and Lee both have urged Tennesseans to get vaccinated, but Reece said she hopes the governor and parents against masks will change their minds to help save the lives of children being hospitalized with COVID-19.
“I would encourage everyone 12 and older to go and get your COVID vaccine which is also another important tool that we have to fight this pandemic,” Reece said.