My name is Alaina Snider.  I’m an 11th grade student at Brighton High School in Tipton County.  I have lived in this small, rural community all of my life, and look forward to continuing my studies in forensic science after I graduate from high school.

Alaina Snider

 At the moment, I am a distance learner, but I planned to attend in person classes after Labor Day.  However, that plan changed after a few of my friends who are currently attending in-person classes alerted me to the fact that the school is allowing “mask breaks.”  These “mask breaks” are periods of time when students and teachers alike are allowed to take off their masks or lower them below their nose. I am completely horrified.

This action completely defeats the purpose of masks and is incredibly dangerous for everyone.  Health experts know that masks are one of the only interventions we have to actually slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.  

Health experts also tell us that COVID-19 is more infectious than the flu. Some carriers can be asymptomatic, causing them to unknowingly spread the virus, as they are unaware they are doing so. Some people who have contracted COVID-19 have made comments saying that they are still experiencing symptoms months after a diagnosis. The death rate is nearly multiple times that of the normal flu and unlike the flu, there is currently no treatment, no vaccine, and no defense — except physical separation from people AND mask wearing. 

Students and teachers who participate in “mask breaks” can contract COVID-19 and unknowingly spread it to their family and to the public, amplifying community spread.

I myself am at slight risk for complications from COVID-19, and my parents are older people who are more at risk than the average person.  Who wants to be responsible for a family member, a parent or grandparent, a teacher or a friend getting sick, hospitalized, or, even worse, dying?  

Here in Tipton County, our schools have been open since August 17.  After a brief decrease in our positivity rate, our 5-day rate of positive cases is back up to almost 10% and our overall rate is 9.4%.  Reopening schools when our community spread is this high just simply does not make sense.  Our neighbor to the east, Haywood County, is much worse and last week led the state at 75 positive cases per 100,000 population per day.  This is worrisome because Covington High School in Tipton County played Haywood in football last Friday night, and they do not have a mask mandate.  

Our county mayor issued a mask mandate, which is now extended to September 30..  I do not believe that most people here take this virus seriously, and I’m not sure that the mask mandate will be extended, even if cases begin to rise again here in September.  One business owner even proudly posted on Facebook that they would not require masks in their store.  Some churches are meeting, again without enforcing social distancing or mask wearing.  And, some even believe that COVID-19 is a political hoax and that it will go away after the November election!

But, what do you expect when we haven’t had clear and consistent leadership from our state and federal elected officials?  Against the advice of doctors and scientists, Governor Lee rushed to reopen businesses in May, and is rushing now to reopen schools without a comprehensive statewide plan to get COVID-19 under control.  Instead of leading in this crisis, he has refused to issue a statewide mask mandate and, instead, is passing this staggering responsibility down to local mayors and school boards to figure out how to deal with a global pandemic on their own.  This lack of leadership has only made things worse.

Many other countries in the developed world have done a better job of getting COVID-19 under control and are beginning to recover. Many other states in our country have done a better job than Tennessee in controlling the spread of the virus.  Their leaders have not hesitated to follow the science, listen to health experts, and LEAD in this crisis.  

We desperately need leadership in Tennessee.  If Gov. Lee does not require a mask mandate immediately, and stop the rush to reopening in-person classes at schools until the state gets the COVID health crisis under control, our state will spiral further out of control and the only options we will have left will be choosing between another state shut down, or simply accepting thousands of more completely AVOIDABLE hospitalizations and deaths among our children, parents, teachers and their families. 

Governor Lee, please issue a statewide mask mandate immediately. Our health and our lives are at stake.