OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — In an open letter to local city councils, the presidents of education associations representing public school employees in Bellevue, Millard, Omaha, Papillion-La Vista, Ralston and Westside schools districts asked metro area governments to implement a mask mandate.
The letter reads, in part:
"As presidents of the Metro area local education associations, we represent the thousands of educators who are working hard every day to provide the children in our community with the kind of learning environment they need and deserve. As you know, our Metro area school districts are not responding to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the same way. Regardless of whether our districts are requiring masks, or simply recommending them, we all agree that it will take more than the health and safety protocols in our schools alone to get COVID under control. Our students and staff do not spend every hour in our buildings. We need strong mitigation efforts that impact the entirety of our community, not just our school buildings, if we are going to keep our students and staff safe and our schools open for in-person learning. That is why we are collectively asking you to establish a mask mandate as quickly as possible."
The letter cites a Duke University Schools of Medicine study that was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, saying, "when there are documented cases of close contact and both individuals are masked, virtually no transmission takes place. This data is particularly relevant to our community because the researchers came to their conclusions studying cases right here in the Omaha metro area."
JUST IN: Metro area education associations are asking city councils to implement mask mandates.— Alyssa Curtis (@AlyssaNCurtis) January 6, 2022
The letter also says that the omicron variant of COVID-19 appears to be highly contagious and that COVID-19 testing is inadequate, with people often waiting in long lines to get tested.
Another issue raised by the association presidents is workforce availability when school staff are out due to illness.
"Even with the recent CDC change that reduced isolation periods for individuals without symptoms, we fear there is a real possibility we will have staffing shortages in the near future. There are already significant concerns about having access to an adequate number of substitute teachers, and we fear that absent a universal mask mandate we could be looking at classroom and school closures, which we all know would be incredibly disruptive to the families of our community," read the letter.
The letter concluded by mentioning evidence from other countries that indicates the omicron surge might be short and because of that, the educators believe a mask mandate would not need to be prolonged.