Below is a letter from Dr. Ellen Wald to the Northland Pines School District Superintendent and School Board, and Bob and Teri Mason, owners of Northwoods Child Development Center in Eagle River. Dr. Wald is the chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University Of Wisconsin (UW) School Of Medicine and Public Health and the pediatrician-in-chief at the University of Wisconsin Children’s Hospital (American Family Children’s Hospital). In her letter, Dr. Wald requests that the Northland Pines School District reconsider its decision to allow masks optional indoors. 

As you know, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Department of Health Services, Department of Public Instruction, the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society, and our Department of Pediatrics at the UW are uniform in their recommendations. Each of these organizations agrees that universal masking should occur in the K-12 setting. 

At their core, these recommendations hold the health, safety and education of children as the most critical guiding principle.

I am writing to question the rationale that you have proposed to defend this decision.

Although you note that you are keeping other layers of your mitigation strategy, the single-most important one — masking — is what you are making optional. This is the most foundational of all of the national and local recommendations. Using masks will actually allow more natural contact between students as it puts much less pressure on distancing than without them.

Although school is only eight hours, it is a critical eight hours in which by its nature children are exposed, in relatively close contact with many others in a way that does not happen during the rest of the day for the majority of students. 

We are responsible for keeping children safe for those precious eight hours during which they are learning and interacting with each other and their teachers. 

The Delta variant stands by itself in terms of its transmissibility. It will find every susceptible child if we do not protect against it. Children less than 12 years of age, and your many other unvaccinated students and adults make a perfect environment for rampant spread. 

Taking on responsibility for a policy that is different from that recommended by every scientific body when one of the students, staff or teachers becomes seriously ill will be a very heavy burden.

We have at our disposal an extremely effective tool for protecting the children in your district and throughout the state. On behalf of all the children for whom you are responsible, I am asking you to make what may or may not be an unpopular choice in your community.

I am requesting that you follow the guidance the medical community has worked hard to craft and will continue to adapt and revise as we learn more. Sometimes the right decision isn’t the easy one.

Dr. Ellen Wald