Ed McKinney

Ed McKinney

Governor Bill Lee’s failed school mask executive order has disrupted education all across Tennessee. Why do some citizens allow politicians to drive their personal irresponsibility about a health measure? The virus is not political. People are. Take a look at the actual cost of not mandating a mask policy in all schools in Tennessee.

Thousands of Tennessee students, teachers, administrative staff, cafeteria workers, janitorial staff, and bus drivers have either become infected with the delta variant or have had to be quarantined for at least two weeks because they were exposed to the virus. Some have been hospitalized.

Unmasked students increase the chance that they will be infected or have to be quarantined because another student was infected. Tennessee children deserve a full-time, in-person, safe learning environment with prevention measures in place.

That includes wearing a mask and having all school personnel and students age 12 or older vaccinated. Any rule that allows you to opt-out of the rule is just plain stupid and is certainly a weak rule.

Facebook officials said they have removed more than 20 million misinformation posts about COVID. Is this where the unvaccinated get their information?

What is the point of having in-school learning if half or more of the class cannot be in the room, including the teacher? No school system in Tennessee has enough substitute teachers to fulfill the need when teachers become infected or have to be quarantined because of exposure. Infected or quarantined students missing two weeks or more of in-class lessons multiple times through the school year have a lot of catching up on their plates.

There is one thing for sure; wearing a mask has not caused anyone to die. In fact, wearing a mask correctly and being vaccinated has saved many thousands of lives.

Harvard-affiliated physicians studying COVID-19 determined that the delta variant of COVID-19 was a more rapid spreader and powerful enough to sicken vaccinated individuals who can then spread the virus to others. Their scientific data showed that the variant behaves differently than prior variants.

The majority of infected individuals currently in Northeast Tennessee and the United States have the delta variant. This variant is more transmissible than the common cold or influenza and is the most contagious form of COVID. Data reveals that having a vaccine-induced protection gives an individual a potential reduction in hospitalization or death.

Over 90% of those getting medical care in hospitals in Tennessee are unvaccinated. Lying in a hospital bed near death is the wrong time to ask for a free vaccination.

The World Health Organization has identified variants of interest (Eta, Iota, Kappa and Lambda) but more importantly it is tracking 13 additional variants that have originated in the U.S., Brazil, Philippines, Indonesia, Colombia, and other nations. The new variant detected in South Africa and in seven other countries is C.1.2 mutation. It has mutations similar to the highly transmissible delta variant.

All viruses change or mutate when there is a change to the virus’s genes as they spread and replicate. The nature of RNA viruses such as coronavirus is to evolve and change gradually.

Having school-aged children become infected with the virus could help spur new variants. As the variant spreads and replicates itself in new people, the more chances it has to mutate. Those mutations could potentially lead to more contagious variants or ones that could evade vaccines, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Having a child hospitalized with pneumonia caused by COVID could become your nightmare.

Hospitals become the life support for those severely infected with COVID, but they can’t give 100% support when they are understaffed, have employees who will not get vaccinated or employees who have COVID. Nurses everywhere are tired — emotionally, mentally and physically.

The cost of a hospital stay, long term side effects from having COVID, your inability to work or earn a paycheck, the loss of productivity in the work environment, the possible cost of a funeral, and the cost of an individual’s life far outweigh anyone’s fear of getting vaccinated or wearing a mask.

Vaccines are very effective in preventing the most severe forms of COVID-19 but are not a guarantee against new breakthrough infections. Those who have experienced COVID can be re-infected. That is why individuals should exercise caution after being vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone wear a mask and practice social distancing along with hygiene safety precautions.

Just look at the risk for your school-aged child, especially those under the age of 12. Parents have opted-out their elementary school-aged children from wearing a mask in Northeast Tennessee. What parent believes it is OK to greatly increase the risk for their child to become ill from COVID? The answer is a misinformed parent.

Middle school and high school students in Tennessee, most of who are not vaccinated, have parents that opted their children out of wearing a mask. Those who are unvaccinated and not practicing preventive strategies are at a higher risk of infection.

You are most likely to spread the delta variant once you become infected before you develop symptoms such as a sore throat, fever, fatigue, headache, sneezing, runny nose, and a possible loss of smell. For those who have more severe infections, pneumonia-type symptoms will appear.

On average, infected individuals may not display symptoms for up to five or six days. During those five or six days you may infect others depending on your frequency of being with other people and being unmasked.

Wearing a mask and being vaccinated is the means to ending this pandemic. Where are the real adults in the community? They are the ones who have been vaccinated and wear a mask.

Life is about choices. Your life may depend on your ability to make good choices. The vaccine will lower your risk of having a severe case of COVID. The odds are in your favor if you are vaccinated. If you are unvaccinated, it is only a matter of time until you will be infected.

Can you afford the medical costs that come with being hospitalized? It is not free. Let’s protect all the children in our community. Wear a mask and if you are not vaccinated, roll up your sleeve and get the shot.

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Community Voices columnist Ed McKinney of Johnson City is a retired business educator.

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