2 Valley doctors say school masks needed in COVID-19 fight
PHOENIX – They’ve sacrificed so much over the past 18 months to protect their children and the community from the coronavirus. Now, two Valley doctors feel the rule against mask mandates in Arizona schools put their efforts in jeopardy.
Dr. Christina Bergin said she has done everything she can to prevent bringing the virus home.
“Just like a lot of other health care workers, I started doing this very elaborate decontamination routine after every hospital shift, particularly those that I was working in our COVID units,” the internal medicine specialist said.
It takes her 45 minutes to get out of her hospital scrubs, sanitize her cellphone and shower before she can go hug her two young daughters and husband after her shifts at Banner-University Medical Center in Phoenix.
Her daughters, ages 10 and 7, have also had to make changes to try to avoid getting COVID-19. They paused winter sports, indoor activities and birthday parties. Instead, they had virtual playdates.
And they’ve never stopped masking.
Bergin said she managed to keep the girls, still too young for a COVID-19 vaccine, safe until recently.
“We received a notification within several days of school that someone in my daughter’s class had tested positive,” she said. “It’s really heartbreaking. I had worked so hard for a year and a half to keep her safe.”
The notice that her 10-year-old was exposed to someone with COVID-19 in her classroom came just three days after the start of the new school year.
The good news is her daughter has tested negative. But Bergin still worries, especially now that more kids are ending up in the hospital because of the highly infectious delta variant of COVID-19.
Dr. Ruth Franks, who also works in internal medicine at Banner-University Medical Center in Phoenix, shares a similar experience.
“My days had gone from reasonable length to really where I may not see my kids for days on end but for a few minutes,” she said.
“And the reason is because we just are having to spend so much more time meeting the needs of our COVID patients.”
On top of spending less time with mom, her three very active, elementary school-aged children haven’t been able to play sports since March.
They’ve also been to limited in-person gatherings with friends, but only those whom Franks trusted the parents would be vaccinated and that the children would wear a mask.
Franks said she finds comfort knowing her kids, two of whom are too young to get vaccinated, are required to wear a mask in school.
“That’s, honestly, why my kids are in school,” she said. “Otherwise, we would definitely have been online.”
Meanwhile, the school where Bergin’s daughters attend does not have a mask mandate. It’s abiding by a new state law that does not allow masking requirements in schools, which Bergin said she hopes will be reversed.
“We know that masks work,” she said. “There’s no reason whatsoever to ban schools from requiring masks.”
A ban on mask mandates in schools was part of the state budget Gov. Doug Ducey signed at the end of June. While the law doesn’t go into effect until Sept. 29, it contains a clause to make the mask provision retroactive to June 30.
At least nine school districts in the state, including Phoenix Union High School District, are requiring face coverings as the fast-spreading delta variant fuels a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.