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Given what we know now about COVID-19 and the public’s reaction to it, what is the endgame for public schools on mask policies?

The Cabell County Board of Education meets at 2:30 p.m. today to revisit its masking policy. Whatever it decides in the short term regarding masks — who must wear them, where and when — there is a longer-term question that remains: When will we determine what is normal in dealing with a virus that mutates and resists efforts to contain it?

At present, American society has two camps that are fighting a war of attrition. One camp is all in on masks and vaccines. The other questions whether either a mask or a vaccine is enough to prevent the spread of the disease. Both sides have dug in. Each seems more interested in shouting at the other side than engaging with it, so it could be months or years before a consensus is reached.

Meanwhile, children in school must mask up, even if they are one of the population groups that is least susceptible to the disease.

Schools are a particular problem. By law, children must be there. Classrooms and lunchrooms are enclosed spaces that might or might not have sufficient ventilation to disperse the coronavirus or other airborne pathogens. Classrooms have a mix of children and older adults who are more likely to have other health problems that make them more susceptible to COVID-19.

Thus there are no easy answers, but questions must be asked.

Do we realistically expect children to mask up in school from kindergarten through 12th grade? Will a kindergartener today be wearing a mask at his or her commencement ceremony in 2034?

It would be good if parents, guardians and others could have some idea of how they will know when this will end. Will it depend on infection rates in schools themselves? In certain age groups, or in society at large? Will it depend on vaccination rates among children or the date when we reach herd immunity, however that is defined?

We have to deal with the immediate problem, but parents and guardians should know what is the goal of COVID containment in schools. When do the masks come off for good?

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