Doctors call on Cobb school district to require masks

08/02/2021 —Marietta, Georgia — Pearson Middle School students exit their busses during the first day of school at Pearson Middle School in Marietta, Monday, August 2, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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08/02/2021 —Marietta, Georgia — Pearson Middle School students exit their busses during the first day of school at Pearson Middle School in Marietta, Monday, August 2, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

More than 200 doctors signed a letter asking the Cobb County School District to re-impose a mask mandate due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in the community.

The letter, delivered this week to Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and school board members, was signed by 240 physicians. They say they are concerned that the district is ignoring coronavirus mitigation efforts that have proven to be successful, including requiring masks, social distancing, improving ventilation and stricter quarantine policies.

Dr. Sujatha Hariharan, one of the doctors who signed the letter, is a hematologist/oncologist whose son is in fifth-grade at East Side Elementary School in East Cobb. The school’s entire fifth-grade class switched to virtual learning this week after experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Hariharan said the district had fewer COVID-19 outbreaks when it required masks and followed public health guidance pertaining to quarantining last school year. She also said it’s not fair for parents to have to worry about their children’s health safety.

“So many parents are helpless,” she added. “They don’t want to send their kids to school without masks, but they have no choice.”

With about 107,000 students enrolled, the Cobb County School District is the second largest district in Georgia. Masks are optional, but are “strongly encouraged.”

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The Cobb County School District said it welcomes feedback from “every corner of our community.” The district also said its updated public health protocols for the school year are “intended to balance the importance of in-person learning and the frequent changes associated with COVID-19.”

Another signee is Dr. Laura Verigan, a pediatrician who has two children enrolled in a Cobb middle school. She said the first two weeks of school have been “really disappointing and frightening as a parent.”

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If no action is taken now, “uncontrolled spread” of the virus in schools could spill over into the community, affecting hospitals already reaching full capacity, the doctor said. Children under age 12 are not eligible for vaccines.

“This virus can have long-lasting consequences,” she said. “Children have a long life in front of them and we don’t really know yet all the effects of this virus might be.”