STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — “Don’t burden these young people,” Staten Island Borough President candidate Vito Fossella said Monday, in reference to the city-wide mandate that children wear masks in public schools.
Fossella, Councilman Joseph Borelli (R-South Shore), and concerned families gathered outside of P.S. 32 in Great Kills on Monday morning to call on the city and state to end the mask mandate in schools.
Although the state no longer requires that students wear masks, they have not ended all mask mandates, instead leaving the decision up to the cities and municipalities — and, so far, New York City officials have held firm on the requirement.
Councilman Borelli pointed out that, while supporting parental choice as relates to masks, he and many of the people in the crowd are not anti-vaccine.
“So, before you media friends make this crowd out to be a bunch of anti-vax, anti-mask crazy people, know that we are absolutely not. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The vaccine is actually what is getting us through this. I’m pro-vaccine, I’m against vaccine mandate,” he said.
“I just want schools to mimic the already existing policy for New York state children in camps. A child could be in camp right now playing basketball and does not have to wear a mask,” Borelli continued.
The councilman explained that he and the other families want the option to decide whether or not their children wear masks rather than be required.
“The pandemic response has to start shifting from the collective responsibility to personal responsibility. If you are not vaccinated, think about getting the vaccine. If you want to wear a mask, think about wearing a mask. If you don’t want to wear a mask, I don’t think you should have to,” said Borelli.
“We want New York City to join the countless other, hundreds, thousands of other school districts around the country that are returning to a choice for the parents,” Borelli added, noting that 43 other states no longer require masks.
THE CITY REMAINS ‘CAUTIOUS’ IN APPROACH
Earlier this month, the CDC eased its mask wearing recommendations saying that fully vaccinated students and adults do not need to wear masks indoors in schools. New York state dropped the mask mandate in schools, leaving it to each school district to decide whether or not to continue requiring masks indoors. However, in NYC, students must still wear masks indoors.
Per the Advance/SILive.com’s previous reporting, Mayor Bill de Blasio emphasized that the city has and will continue to be cautious with reopening.
“We try and be smart and careful about the best way to handle the situation and I think it’s served us really well,” said the mayor. “To date, our approach on the question of masks has been a cautious one and I think it’s helped us a lot.”
City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said that mask wearing has been a “key part” of the city’s layered approach that has kept schools safe and reduced the transmission of COVID-19 in school buildings.
‘IS IT ETHICAL…’
Fossella questioned the ethics of maintaining a mask mandate.
“I think the fundamental question we have to ask ourselves is: Is it ethical to burden these young people with a mask mandate without the science to prove that they actually work?” said the former congressman.
“Recently there was a study released by a very prestigious organization that said carbon dioxide levels for children who wore masks were sometimes six or seven times higher than the acceptable average,” said Fossella.
Although he did not specify the exact study or organization, a recent study published by JAMA Pediatrics that showed similar results — that masks caused increased carbon dioxide in children — was later retracted because “numerous scientific issues were raised regarding the study methodology.”
Fossella also asserted that the mask mandate is tied to politics.
“The bottom line is this: the government folks who are in control want to control our lives. We’re saying here in front of P.S. 32 in the South Shore of Staten Island, the time has come for you to say, ‘We’re not controlling your lives,’” he said.
Fossella continued: “These people are hardworking, freedom-loving people and they deserve to make the best choices for their families. Joe Borelli said it best, the vaccine is the tool. If you want the vaccine, go get it. Don’t burden these young people.”
‘UNFAIR’ AND ‘UNHEALTHY’
Kristine Colon of Richmondtown, a mother of a 2-year-old and 6-year-old, organized the event for families to come out and voice their concerns about the mask mandate.
“All we’re asking for is to make masks a decision for us to make as parents,” said Colon.
“It’s not fair. Our kids are suffering, they’re anxious, they’re confused, and we can’t make them understand if we don’t understand. And nothing is there telling us why they have to wear masks in school; they’re being social distanced anyway,” she continued.
Colon added: “It’s just unfair and it’s unhealthy and we need these kids to grow up and be strong and this is not the way. They need to be free.”
STUDENTS SPEAK OUT
Nicholas Benevento, a rising 8th grader from Annadale, shared his experience with wearing a mask in school. Benevento explained that he attended school in person for half of this past school year.
“While wearing my mask in school, I found it very uncomfortable and distracting with very little room. Just the thought of going into the 8th grade wearing a mask makes me upset because I just spent the summer enjoying sports indoors and outdoors,” he said.
“I think that people should have a choice, especially kids, should have a choice to wear a mask or not,” Benevento continued.
Five-year-old Amelia also discussed her experience with wearing a mask in school.
“I don’t want to wear my mask because it’s hard to breathe. My teachers says I will get in trouble if I take it off. It gets hot and it smells funny when I keep it on,” she said.
Assemblymembers Michael Reilly and Michael Tannousis as well as a representative from Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis’ office were also in attendance at the press conference.
MAYOR AND GOVERNOR SOUND URGENT NOTE OVER DELTA VARIANT
Both the mayor and governor also held press conferences Monday — to discuss the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in New York. Each emphasized that the vaccine is integral to New York’s recovery from the pandemic.
“What we’re looking at is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. A pandemic of that 25% of the population that is still refusing to get the vaccine,” said Governor Cuomo in a press release announcing an allocation of $15 million to promote vaccination in communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Cuomo also noted that 72% of the new positive COVID-19 test results have been linked to the Delta variant of the virus, which is significantly more contagious, and said that there were nearly two thousand cases on Sunday in New York, compared to just over 300 a month earlier.
On Monday morning, Mayor de Blasio announced a new mandate that will require city employees to either be vaccinated or be tested for the virus weekly, beginning Sept. 13. Employees – including health care workers, teachers, police officers, and firefighters – will have to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing and will be required to wear masks indoors at all times.
“This is what it takes to continue our recovery for all of us while fighting back the delta variant,” said de Blasio. “It’s going to take all of us to finally end the fight against COVID-19.”