Editorial: Pack those masks in CT school backpacks

A sign requiring masks or face covering hangs on the front door of the Morton Government Center, in Bridgeport, Conn. Aug. 11, 2021.

A sign requiring masks or face covering hangs on the front door of the Morton Government Center, in Bridgeport, Conn. Aug. 11, 2021.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

Be sure to add masks to that list of school supplies.

Gov. Ned Lamont made the right call in announcing Tuesday that a mask mandate will carry over to the opening of schools in coming weeks. It is news that parents have been waiting patiently (and impatiently) for this summer.

For now, masks will be required at least through September. If there’s one lesson COVID-19 has taught us, it’s that deadlines break easily.

“But I think getting our schools off on the right footing makes the most sense,” Lamont said. “I see some of the problems they’re having in a number of the Southern states where the kids are not wearing masks, where they are forced to quarantine, where teachers are getting ill. And we’re not going to let that happen. Not in Connecticut.”

Political lawn signs this fall will surely compete with even more “unmask our kids” placards.

It’s hard to present much of an argument against the continuation of masks, as infection rates and hospitalizations in the state have stubbornly continued to rise in recent weeks. Connecticut hospitals just experienced the highest net increase in inpatients with COVID-19 (36) since March.

That doesn’t mean opponents of masks for children don’t deserve empathy. It’s hard enough for grownups to keep them on. Even after 18 months, wearing one is still not as second-nature as, say, donning a shirt. They can make breathing difficult, steam up glasses, create irritation for people with beards, and cause acne.

For some young children, wearing a mask has come easier than it has for adults. In other households, it’s a daily discomfort for kids and parents.

Long before summer recess arrived, it was clear that many kids can’t resist the impulse to discard masks to return to typical play with friends in yards, playgrounds and streets. But that should not invite cavalier attitudes to our classrooms.

No one wants to wear a mask, so Lamont knows this is hardly welcome news for parents of school-aged children. Still, after announcing the requirement Tuesday morning, he reinforced a point that bears repeating during a subsequent news conference later in the day.

“By the way, the tighter the mask the more effective it is,” Lamont said during the event, an effort to rally student-athletes to get vaccinated.

That Lamont was able to issue this mandate through executive powers is a good example of their usage. If this decision was left to the General Assembly, families would likely be left in limbo during anguished discourses by lawmakers.

Still, Lamont’s authority has a Sept. 30 deadline, and he has yet to request an extension that may prove necessary. Many school districts would prefer to make the choice themselves, but this is not the kind of decision that should flip across thin local borders.

As important as it was for Lamont to make this mandate clear before the opening bell, it’s equally vital to acknowledge that Oct. 1 will arrive quickly. Lawmakers, starting with Lamont, need to remain proactive. If they succeed, perhaps children could swap these masks for more welcome ones by Halloween.