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Children’s Agenda pediatrician weighs in on whether masks should be worn in schools

The state-wide mask mandate is still in effect amid an ongoing legal battle, but even if it were lifted, a local medical expert says schools should still require masks indoors.

Dr Jeff Kaczorowski, a pediatrician and senior advisor of The Children’s Agenda in Rochester, said on Wednesday that keeping children and teens in schools is better for their overall well-being compared to remote options, as long as everyone is wearing a mask.

“There are kids who have cancer, there are kids who are immunocompromised who deserve to be in school and do not deserve becoming infected,” Kaczorowski said.

“We don't want the kid who may be sitting down in the classroom with medication that makes them immune suppressed to get sick. We don't want kids going home and potentially infecting elderly family members who could get really sick.”

Dr Jeffrey Kaczorowski is a pediatrician and president of The Children's Agenda in Rochester
Dr Jeffrey Kaczorowski is a pediatrician and president of The Children's Agenda in Rochester

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Arizona-based schools where masks were not required saw about three and a half times as much transmission of COVID-19 compared with schools that required masks early on in this school year. However, some have questioned the methodology of the study. The CDC recommends that masks be worn inside schools by staff and students.

Being in a classroom can also mean far better outcomes for most students' academic achievement than the relative isolation of remote learning, Kaczorowski said.

“They also are removed from their peers and their social supports, their time for art and gym and activities, and it has a negative impact in terms of their health and mental health,” he said. “So we want kids in school. Masks are a key part of that.”

Earlier this month, the city school district’s Parent Leadership Council held a parent forum where concerns over older students’ willingness to keep their masks on was called into question.

The New York state Department of Education stated earlier this week that the agency will continue to advise schools to require masks while them legal process plays out over the mask mandate. New York state is one of 16 states that have mandated masks in schools. At least ten states have attempted to ban masks in schools.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.