School districts should require masks indoors for all students and staff in elementary and middle schools.

Sure, these words are from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, but the end-all-be-all is not from our church leaders, president, governor, county health director or family doctor. No one person guides our major decisions. It certainly isn’t from social media. The end-all-be-all is the wide-ranging professionals from various fields whose independent work focuses on the COVID-19 crisis and agrees on simple truths: Hygiene works. Masks work. Vaccines work.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and a community is only as strong as its least protected neighbors. We get vaccinated as we become eligible, but we shouldn’t throw out kids to fend for themselves with nothing more than hand soap and hope.

We are better than that. Our children deserve better than that. Not every student’s caregivers agree on the path forward, but it’s easier to miss those of us with high-risk family and friends we are continuing to protect.

We are not out in force, gathering in groups to insist at local-government meetings that mask requirements continue in schools. We prioritize our loved ones by doing what all the experts recommend: Avoid crowds, wear masks, and stay home as much as possible.

The world stopped last year in order to protect us all, but many are attempting to force a return to normal before the world is anything but normal. The only difference is that people older than 12 years old can vaccinate if they choose. Children deserve to benefit from the same caution and concern as the rest of us.

Battles like cancer, disease and chronic health conditions choose us or our loved ones because of genetics or rotten luck, and we are now tasked with choosing how to face our COVID-19 battles. Do we take our chances with an unvaccinated return to life as before, or do we do our best to avoid yet another round that plants us in the face of death, hospital stays, medical bills and lifelong complications?

Children in general have been assumed relatively low risk up until this point, though new variants challenge that theory. Some kids are still getting sick, though, and long-COVID comes with a host of life-changing symptoms, including headaches, fatigue and heart palpitations. You aren’t around young people enough if the thought of a kid with chronic pain or fatigue doesn’t give you pause.

Our community is blessed with an abundance of knowledge and resources from a swath of differing points of view. Not everyone, though, has the time or energy to act as armchair experts. We defer in these instances to those who work above our pay grade. Our schools should continue requiring masks until vaccine eligibility opens to all children in our schools, giving those who choose vaccination the recommended time frame to receive their vaccine doses.

Give our children time to catch up to the same amount of protection as the rest of us in charge of making decisions. It’s too early to give up trying. They are almost there.

Jenny Medlen is a Mooresville resident and parent of students in Iredell-Statesville Schools.

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