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The Health 202: A majority of parents favor mask mandates in schools

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with Paige Winfield Cunningham

Mask mandates in schools have been a bitter source of controversy, sparking protests at school board meetings and fights between school districts and state leaders. 

But a new poll finds most parents are in favor of requiring masks.

Nearly two-thirds of parents of school-age children (63 percent) said their child’s school should require unvaccinated students and staff to wear masks in school in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll out this morning.

The findings come as public health experts have urged all students and staff to wear masks in school to protect against the far-more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, which has been blamed for a surge in cases and hospitalizations across the country.

More than a third of American children will have returned to a new school year by the end of this week.

Many public health experts and educators were optimistic that this school year would represent more of a return to normal, and in some ways it will: Almost all schools are offering a full-time in-person option, as our colleagues have reported. Widespread vaccination, especially among the elderly, means there is less risk that kids will pass the virus on to vulnerable relatives. An estimated 90 percent of teachers have been vaccinated. 

But the surge of the delta variant has caused alarm among public health experts and intensified arguments over masking and vaccines. 

Just as with adult mask-wearing, there’s a strong partisan divide when it comes to making kids wear masks. 

While 88 percent of parents who identify as Democrats want to see mask requirements at school, 69 percent of Republicans are opposed to school mask mandates, the KFF poll found.

Some of the most heated battles over masks have taken place as school districts, often in left-leaning cities, butt heads with Republican state leadership. At least seven states have barred schools from requiring masks. Some school districts in Texas and Florida have defied their governors’ orders and pushed ahead with mask requirements anyway.

Parents are far less supportive of mandatory vaccines than they are of masking.

Among parents of adolescent students, a majority (58 percent) say they don’t want their kids’ school to require children to get a coronavirus vaccine, the KFF poll found. Coronavirus vaccines have been authorized for emergency use in children 12 and older since May.

So far no state health departments has sought to require the vaccines in schools, although all states do mandate schoolchildren get vaccines for other illnesses, including measles and chickenpox.

That might change once the Food and Drug Administration gives full authorization to coronavirus vaccines for adolescents or once coronavirus vaccines have been approved for younger kids as well.

But to parents, the prospect of full FDA approval does not move the needle much on their opinions of school vaccine mandates. Fifty-four percent of parents would oppose a vaccine requirement for eligible teenagers even after it received full FDA approval.

There’s still a significant share of parents on the fence about vaccinating their kids.

Nearly half of parents say their teenagers have already gotten a shot (41 percent) or will do so as soon as possible (6 percent). 

But while only a small fraction of adults remains undecided about whether to get vaccinated, opinions aren’t so set when it comes to parents deciding whether to vaccinate their kids. Just under 1 in 4 parents say that they want to “wait and see” before vaccinating their kids. 

While some GOP politicians toe the line between advocating for vaccines and protecting individual freedoms, legislative barriers to vaccination still exist. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

Another 20 percent of parents say they will definitely not vaccinate their kids, while 9 percent say they will only do so if required.

Parents who vote Democrat, have a higher income or have a college degree were more likely than their counterparts to say that they had vaccinated their children or planned to in the immediate future, according to the KFF poll.

For parents of unvaccinated teenagers, concerns center on long-term or serious side effects. Nearly three-quarters of these parents cite concerns that the vaccine could impact their child’s fertility in the future, despite the fact that there is no evidence that any vaccines, including the coronavirus vaccines, cause fertility problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hispanic and Black parents were more likely than White parents to cite other barriers to vaccinating their kids, including the difficulty of traveling to a vaccination site, concerns that they might need to pay for a vaccine or the lack of a trusted place to get a shot. 

Ahh, oof and ouch

AHH: D.C. will require all city employees and contractors to get a coronavirus vaccine or undergo weekly testing.

The order will require teachers, police officers, sanitation workers and others who work for the city to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 19 or take weekly coronavirus tests, The Washington Post’s Perry Stein and Karina Elwood report.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) stopped short of issuing a full mandate for current employees, but employees who fill job openings posted after Aug. 13 will be required to be vaccinated, unless they have a medical or religious objection, in which case they must undergo weekly testing.

“So far just 59  percent of the city’s 37,000 workers have reported their vaccination status to officials, according to D.C. data, with 54 percent of those employees reporting being fully vaccinated,” our colleagues report.

Bowser’s announcement comes as vaccine mandates spread across the country. California, New York, Virginia and Washington state have all announced vaccine or testing requirements for state employees in recent weeks.

OOF: A Missouri judge told the state it must allow Medicaid expansion.

Circuit Judge Jon Beetem said the state must immediately start giving Medicaid coverage to newly eligible adults, despite resistance from the state’s Republican governor and GOP-led legislature, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jack Suntrup reports.

The ruling is a major victory for proponents of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and could lead to an estimated 275,000 more low-income adults receiving insurance.

Fifty-three percent of Missouri voters approved a state constitutional amendment last year that would expand Medicaid access, but the state legislature refused to allocate funding for the expansion.

OUCH: Hospitals are running out of nurses amid an influx of covid-19 patients.

“The rapidly escalating surge in COVID-19 infections across the U.S. has caused a shortage of nurses and other front-line staff in virus hot spots that can no longer keep up with the flood of unvaccinated patients and are losing workers to burnout and lucrative out-of-state temporary gigs,” the Associated Press reports.

Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oregon all have more people hospitalized with covid-19 than at any other point in the pandemic, the AP’s Terry Spencer, Jennifer Sinco Kelleher and Andrew Selsky write.

  • The Florida Hospital Association said that nearly 70 percent of Florida hospitals are expecting critical staffing shortages in the next week. The CEO of Miami’s Jackson Memorial Health System, the state’s largest medical provider, told the AP that nurses are being lured away to other states at double or triple the salary.
  • Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott (R) directed state officials earlier this week to use staffing agencies to find medical staff outside of the state. He also sent a letter to the Texas Hospital Association requesting that hospitals pause elective procedures to make room for covid patients.
  • In Louisiana, one person who suffered a heart attack was bounced around to six hospitals before finding an emergency room in New Orleans that could take him.

More in coronavirus news

Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) denounced vaccine mandates.

“There should be no mandates — zero — concerning covid,” Cruz told Fox New host Sean Hannity. “That means no mask mandates, regardless of your vaccination status. That means no vaccine mandates. That means no vaccine passports.”

“Cruz’s call for no coronavirus mandates of any kind came hours after he and Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) introduced two bills that would ban mask and vaccine mandates,” The Post’s Timothy Bella reports. “The measures would countermand recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends that people wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.”

It also comes as the White House takes a more aggressive approach toward getting Americans vaccinating, including with a requirement that federal workers get vaccinated or follow stringent social distancing and masking rules at work.

Paul has also railed against mandates. On Sunday, the senator released a video urging people to resist regulations implemented by health experts.

“It’s time for us to resist. They can’t arrest all of us,” Paul said. “They can’t keep all of your kids home from school. They can’t keep every government building closed, although I’ve got a long list of ones they might keep closed or ought to keep closed.”

Public health experts are demanding that the Biden administration step up its global vaccination efforts.

More than 175 public health experts, scientists and activists urged President Biden to take immediate action to vaccinate the rest of the world against the coronavirus, The Post’s Dan Diamond and Yasmeen Abutaleb report.

“We urge you to act now,” the experts wrote in a joint letter to senior White House officials Tuesday and shared with The Washington Post. “Announcing within the next 30 days an ambitious global vaccine manufacturing program is the only way to control this pandemic, protect the precious gains made to date, and build vaccine infrastructure for the future.”

The experts noted that the U.S. has stockpiled more than 55 million doses of mRNA vaccines but is administering fewer than 900,000 a day. At the current rate, it would take more than two months to administer all of the vaccines in storage.

Public Citizen also argued that Biden has sweeping powers to share details of Modern's vaccine production process.

The watchdog group cited the April 2020 contract that Moderna signed with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, our colleagues report.

“The knowledge that can help end the pandemic should not be a secret,” said Zain Rizvi, a law and policy researcher who authored Public Citizen’s report. “The Biden administration promised a wartime response to the global vaccine effort. It’s time to deliver.”

On the Hill

Senate Democrats introduced legislation to reform the nursing home industry.

The bill, from a group led by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), proposes a series of comprehensive reforms to the nursing home industry.

“Families must have faith that loved ones receiving long-term care or care after a hospital stay will be safe and receive good-quality care,” Wyden said in a statement. “The pandemic, myriad reports of abuse, and critical failures during natural disasters have shattered that foundation of trust and safety.”

The bill would forbid nursing homes from forcing residents and their families to agree in advance to waive their right to sue.

It would give states the option of an increase in federal Medicaid matching funds to raise salaries and benefits for nursing home staff. Other provisions would require nursing homes to meet minimum staffing requirements, hire a full-time infection control specialist and have a registered nurse on call 24 hours a day.

Hospitals are still hiding their prices, despite a federal rule mandating disclosure.

When researchers at Michigan State University and Johns Hopkins looked for the prices hospitals charged insurance companies for colonoscopies, they were able to find the negotiated rates at only 1,225 general acute care hospitals, or 28 percent of all such hospitals. That’s in spite of a rule that went into effect in January requiring hospitals to post their prices.

Those that did disclose charged widely different prices for the common procedure, with the most expensive hospitals charging around $3,677, roughly five times the national Medicare reimbursement rate, according to the study published in Health Affairs.

“Price transparency alone won’t be the panacea to cure the hospital pricing ailment, but it can give some payers an opportunity to identify high-price hospitals and improve network design to purchase health care more efficiently,” said Ge Bai, an expert on health-care pricing at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and an author on the study.

Sugar rush

Washington Post reporters and a photojournalist recall favorite moments from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and what it was like to cover the games during a pandemic. (Video: Allie Caren, Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post, Photo: Brian Monroe/The Washington Post)