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story.lead_photo.caption Art teacher Olivia Slone (right) and other teachers at Tucker Elementary School in Lowell wave to students and their families Thurs- day during a back-to-school drive-thru event to deliver school supplies and meet one another. Staff members and students will wear masks when school begins Monday and take unmasked outdoor breaks throughout the day. It’ll be a challenge to keep young kids masked, Slone said, but “we’ll do our best.” More photos at arkansasonline.com/823masks/. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Dan Holtmeyer)

Take out your books. Line up for lunch. Put on your masks.

Failure to follow instructions this school year could pose serious health risks.

Districts across the state have made masks a requirement for their employees and students -- at least for certain ages and in more cramped situations like buses.

A statewide tally of districts taking this approach isn't yet available and has been a moving target. Even districts such as Jonesboro and Rogers that started out merely recommending masks now will require them.

Bentonville and Mena instituted the requirement at the urging of physician advisers, who are helping some districts navigate the pandemic.

"At this point, wearing a mask is best for society as a whole," said one of the advisers, Dr. Richard Lochala in Mena. Masks will be required for adults and most students ages 10 and up in Mena schools.

"If people won't do it out of the goodness of their heart, the laws and guidelines will take care of that."

In Bentonville, Rebecca Powers was the sole School Board member to vote against the requirement this summer. She didn't return phone and email messages requesting comment over the past few weeks, but at a late July board meeting she said the requirement would go beyond the governor's mandate for little reason. Gov. Asa Hutchinson's mandatory mask rule exempted children under 10.

"More children die going back and forth to school," she said, referring to the low risk of severe illness and death from covid-19 among young children.

[COVID CLASSROOM: Read more stories from this series » nwaonline.com/covidclassroomnw]

Masks nonetheless could help prevent or slow any school outbreaks, experts say. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health officials have said multilayered cloth face coverings are vital to prevent the virus's leap from person to person. Without masks, the virus can travel several feet toward others through coughing, shouting or even talking.

In Kansas, for example, the health department's top official said new cases have declined in the dozen or so counties that made masks mandatory in public, despite those counties' higher populations and densities, while case numbers didn't change in the counties that have no mask requirements.

Masks are important in situations where lower-risk kids might cough or laugh the virus out around their higher-risk teachers, according to the CDC.

Despite masks and other safety measures installed to separate students and teachers, challenges remain, education experts said, not the least of which will be sticking to the rules.

"I know kids. You're not going to keep those masks on kids. You're not going to do it," said Charles Jones, a Hope High School math teacher who's been on the job since the 1950s.

Laura Smith, director and owner of the Bumble Bee Academy day care in North Little Rock, shares Jones' view. Eighteen of the day care's 45 children are school-age. Smith pointed to a 6-year-old child who has an issue with spitting at others.

"Try to put a mask on that," she said.

Having to close because of an outbreak could mean the end of her business, Smith said. Staff members are masked up, sometimes wearing more than one at a time. They clean toys, wipe surfaces with bleach and wash hands seemingly nonstop.

"By the grace of God, we have not been exposed yet," Smith said.

Other educators spoke more optimistically. Children have had months to get used to wearing masks, they said, and parents can help by setting good examples. Many districts are allowing breaks from masks when 6 feet or more of distance can be maintained among the children.

"I think our community understands this is a reasonable step to help prevent the spread of the virus," said Superintendent David Tollett with the Barton-Lexa School District in Phillips County.

"I think kids have adjusted. I don't think the mask issue will be as big as people think."

Doug Allen, owner of Jose's Bar and Grill, carries bags of supplies Friday as he hands out boxes of personal protective equipment to Northwest Arkansas teachers at the restaurant in Tontitown. Allen raised about $13,000 to provide hand sanitizer, masks and cleaning supplies for teachers. "We've got an assortment of stuff for them to help them outfit their classroom, put their mind at ease and let the community know we care about our teachers," Allen said. Visit nwaonline.com/200823Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
Doug Allen, owner of Jose's Bar and Grill, speaks to teachers Friday as he hands out boxes of personal protective equipment to Northwest Arkansas teachers at the restaurant in Tontitown. Allen raised about $13,000 to provide hand sanitizer, masks and cleaning supplies for teachers. "We've got an assortment of stuff for them to help them outfit their classroom, put their mind at ease and let the community know we care about our teachers," Allen said. Visit nwaonline.com/200823Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
Doug Allen, owner of Jose's Bar and Grill, carries bags of supplies Friday as he hands out boxes of personal protective equipment to Northwest Arkansas teachers at the restaurant in Tontitown. Allen raised about $13,000 to provide hand sanitizer, masks and cleaning supplies for teachers. "We've got an assortment of stuff for them to help them outfit their classroom, put their mind at ease and let the community know we care about our teachers," Allen said. Visit nwaonline.com/200823Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
Boxes of disposable face masks sit in a box Friday as Northwest Arkansas teachers line up to receive gifts of person protective equipment at Jose's Bar and Grill in Tontitown. Restaurant owner Doug Allen raised about $13,000 to provide hand sanitizer, masks and cleaning supplies for teachers. "We've got an assortment of stuff for them to help them outfit their classroom, put their mind at ease and let the community know we care about our teachers," Allen said. Visit nwaonline.com/200823Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
Art teacher Olivia Slone, right, and other teachers at Tucker Elementary School in Lowell wave to incoming students and their families on Thursday during a back-to-school drive-thru event to deliver school supplies and meet each other. Staff and students will wear masks when school begins Monday, with unmasked outdoor breaks throughout the day. It'll be a challenge to keep young kids masked, Slone said, but "we'll do our best." Check out nwaonline.com/200823Daily/ for a photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Dan Holtmeyer)
More News

Not all masks are made equal

Researchers at Duke University found different types of face masks vary widely in how helpful they are to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which travels most often through microscopic droplets that come out of mouths when people, talk, laugh and cough.

The best: Fitted N95 and surgical masks. These face coverings let almost no droplets escape, according to the study.

Still good: Cotton masks. Several versions of cotton and knitted masks cut droplet spread by at least half, the study found. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other researchers have said what matters is density and thickness, so at least two layers of cloth is ideal.

Less good: Bandanas. A folded bandana was better than nothing, but let through roughly two-thirds of those droplets.

Worse than nothing: Fleece. A gaiter-type neck fleece actually allowed more droplets through than wearing nothing did, the study found. This could happen because the material actually splits up larger droplets into more numerous smaller ones, which can also stay in the air and possibly infect others longer.

Source: Science Advances

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