One of those parents is Kim Hagood of Trussville, Alabama. Hagood is a 51-year-old mother whose son just turned 11 years old and isn’t yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Her son’s school district isn’t mandating masks despite coronavirus cases in the state already surpassing the total for all of 2020.
“I don’t care what words you use, whether it’s a mandate or required, it just needs to happen,” Hagood told Yahoo Finance. “My son does mask. I can go to the Facebook page for his class, and out of like five or six kids, there will be two wearing a mask. So it’s not required. It’s like a slap in the face to me to watch our school system say ‘it’s not a concern.’”
Only children ages 12 and up are eligible for vaccination, which is highly effective at preventing serious illness and death. Pfizer is expected to request emergency use authorization for their COVID vaccine for kids 5-11 in coming weeks.
Another parent, Kathleen Schneider of Clinton Township, Michigan, also expressed dismay over the fact that no mask mandate was put in place in her children's school district.
"I've got three kids, actually four, but I have three in elementary school. And basically, I'm not comfortable," Schneider said.
While it was initially thought that children were not major vectors of the coronavirus, that has changed since the Delta variant became the dominant strain in the U.S. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children overall represent 16% of total cases since the pandemic began and recently account for 26.7% of weekly reported cases.
In many states, school mask mandates are either banned on a statewide level or left up to local leaders to decide whether or not to implement. As a result, thousands of parents, including Hagood, have banded with the national family advocacy group ParentsTogether to encourage school leaders to require masks for schools. The group has amassed 33,000 signatures from parents committed to having their kids wear masks.
“It’s so weird to know that we’ve got this crisis in what is in the middle of a pandemic,” Hagood said. “It’s political. We’re just like ‘it’s not real.’ And I’m like, ‘Where are you? You are intelligent folks.’ Some of them, not at all. To hear the intelligent people say it’s nothing gets me, I think, the most.”
More deaths than births in Alabama
Alabama is one of 27 states that does not have school mask mandates on a statewide level. (Seven other states have outright banned school mask mandates.)
For Hagood, who struggles with both lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, wearing a mask is critical for protecting her compromised immune system, especially since she receives low doses of chemotherapy as part of her treatment.
“I’ve been really careful,” Hagood said. “I started masking in March of last year. I got frantic calls from my rheumatologist and several other doctors asking: ‘Are you masking? This is dangerous. We’ve got to do this.’”
She explained that she’s “thought greatly” about possibly sending her child to a private school where mask mandates are in effect, but realized it would not be financially feasible.
“My inner circle — which is small, we’re a multi-generational family in my house — my mom and I are vaccinated, and my son is only 11,” Hagood said. “He did ask, ‘When can I get vaccinated?’ when we went to his yearly pediatrician appointment last week, and he’s all for it.”
Not all parents are supportive of vaccinating their children. According to a new Gallup poll, only 55% of parents with kids under the ages of 12 said they would get their child vaccinated if a vaccine became available.
“Personally, I have no problem if you don’t want to get a vaccination because I understand it’s new, it’s different, you’re getting a lot of misinformation,” Hagood said. “But wearing your mask — we had more deaths last year in the state of Alabama than we had births for the first time in our history.” (The coronavirus was to blame for Alabama's high death rate last year.)
And as someone with lupus, Hagood is typically treated with hydroxychloroquine, though she ran into difficulty accessing it last year after then-President Trump touted it as a COVID treatment. Fervor for the drug reached the point where people approached her asking to buy the medication off of her.
“I’m like no, you cannot buy it from me,” Hagood said. “I have to bite my tongue a lot when I speak.”
Wearing masks in schools is 'the best way to keep our kids safe'
Kathleen Schneider, a parent of four from Macomb County, Michigan, told Yahoo Finance that "it's mostly frustrating. Oakland, Wayne, and Washtenaw counties have all mandated masks in schools. Macomb County refuses to mandate masks."
She noted that the "best way to keep our kids safe is to wear masks to schools. Everybody says it. It's science. Studies have been done that show there are absolutely no negative health effects on children from wearing masks."
Schneider expressed her concerns to officials at her children's school and was asked to attend a board meeting. "So I came, and I read my letter, and nothing happened … nothing has come of it," she said. The mother of four told Yahoo Finance that she will now send her letter to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) to advocate for mask mandates statewide.
"I'm hoping writing to the governor helps. I think she's level-headed, and she knows the science. She knows it's there," Schneider said. "Hopefully, she will take that into account that there are those of us that are more liberal, more Democratic in this county, and she needs her votes to get reelected, and you need to mandate masks if you want that."
Mask mandate opponents are 'gonna bully you until things change'
Debi Dezelske, a 63-year-old with two foster sons with special needs, is another parent who is alarmed at how polarized mask mandates have become, especially in her sons' school district.
“I see a lot of politics,” Dezelske told Yahoo Finance. “It’s very hard because parents don’t want their children exposed to masks and blah, blah, blah. What I’m trying to get across is that not every parent is a biological parent in the age range of, say, 30-42. I’ve adopted two children that are special needs and I’m 63, so obviously I have a few underlying conditions, too.”
In Wisconsin, where Dezelske and her sons live, cases are up by 69% over the past two weeks.
In Dezelske's school district, masks were initially optional for students until positive cases kept emerging and the school board elected to implement a mask mandate in response. But not all parents agreed with the school board's decision, Dezelske explained.
“It got so bad for one of the gentlemen on the school board … that he just stepped down because they were protesting outside his home and his business,” Dezelske said. “It was making life and family life very, very hard so he stepped down. So what they're doing is they're gonna bully you until things change.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reggie Wade is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.