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Lynbrook, East Rockaway parents split on masking for children

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With coronavirus cases dropping and restrictions easing, many parents have made a push to allow children to go without face coverings at schools and camps, while others have been reluctant to do so.

“The masking rules for school must remain as long as children are not vaccinated,” Avram Pilich said. “Just because many adults are vaccinated, that doesn’t mean that unvaccinated kids are safe. Children have died from Covid-19 and spread it to relatives who have died. Nobody likes wearing masks, but this is a matter of life and death.”

Ashley Miller expressed a similar sentiment. “Until the kids can be vaccinated, masks stay on, especially indoors,” she said.

Across the state and in Nassau County, however, there have been rallies at which people have pushed for an end to mask requirements for children. Diane Isopo O’Gara said she was among the people who believe youths should no longer have to wear them.

“Kids should be unmasked,” Isopo O’Gara said. “It is hurting their self-esteem and is more detrimental to their health to be breathing in their own breath for hours a day than Covid-19 is a danger. Teachers who are vaccinated should feel protected, and those who are still nervous can choose to wear their own masks all day, but I want my kids to be unmasked for good.”

Jessica Campbell said she was also in favor of unmasking children, noting that as a parent and a teacher, she was concerned that masks would have a lasting negative impact. One of her students, she said, has suffered frequent nosebleeds since having to wear one, while many other children aren’t as social as they used to be.

“Young children need to see faces,” Campbell said. “They need to see expressions. It’s a part of their development. We’re depriving our children of basic human rights, like breathing.”

She added that she believed mask mandates weren’t in keeping with the science of Covid-19 cases dwindling amid an increase in vaccinated residents. Campbell also said, however, that she believed parents should have a choice in the matter, and that those who want their children to continue wearing masks should have that right, just as others who don’t want their kids to cover their faces should also have a say.

“The government needs to leave our babies alone and let us decide what is best for them,” she said.

On May 26, parents, school board members and legislators hosted a rally at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola, urging officials to unmask children in schools and camps. The group demanded that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and County Executive Laura Curran lift mask restrictions for children. So far, officials have stood firm on those mandates.

The state Department of Health announced last month that only children between ages 2 and 5 were no longer required to wear masks for child care programs, but many parents have pushed for the age limit to be raised, even if older children are not yet eligible for a vaccine.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for those ages 12 to 15 on May 10, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention green-lighted it on May 12. Hours later, Cuomo gave it the OK. Those younger than 12, however, are still not eligible for inoculations.

While elected officials and hospitals across Long Island hosted news events when children began receiving the vaccines, many parents have expressed concerns about inoculating their children, and now more have been vocal about not wanting them to wear masks. Barbara Brooks Russack said parents should have the final say.

“I believe masks for children should be up to their parents,” she said. “If an adult wants to wear a mask while around children who are unmasked, that is their choice.”

In an update on May 15, the CDC said it recommended that schools continue to follow current Covid-19 prevention strategies for the rest of the school year, which include mask wearing by adults and children. The guidance came as the CDC also stated that those who have been fully vaccinated against the virus do not have to wear masks or socially distance unless required to do so by a business, workplace or other local restriction.