Leading health organizations in West Virginia are urging public and private schools to implement universal mask-wearing during a time when science is often ignored or taken over by politicians and conspiracy theories.

In an open letter to schools, West Virginia health organizations call on county boards of education and school administrators to implement universal masking in their schools as part of their COVID-19 mitigation plans, in accordance with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidance for safe in-person learning.

This guidance states that all students, school staff and visitors should wear face masks at school, regardless of vaccination status.

The letter, which is signed by 12 West Virginia health organizations, states that “universal masking is an essential and effective step to prevent person-to-person transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 and is critical for the protection of those who cannot get the COVID-19 vaccines, such as children under 12 years of age. Our students who are under 12 do not have the opportunity to be protected from COVID-19 through vaccination at this time, thus universal masking is the best way to protect them from the virus.”

“A return to in-person learning is vital for the development of our children and adolescents, but as the Delta variant spreads, it is essential that we take all the steps that we can to protect students and school staff from COVID-19 when they return to school,” said Lisa M. Costello, MD, MPH, FAAP, President of the West Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She added that “while COVID-19 vaccination is the most effective method that we have to prevent COVID-19, it’s not yet available to children under 12, so mask-wearing by all students and staff is a crucial strategy to include with other school COVID-19 prevention measures.”