Surgeon General Vivek Murthy offered support Sunday for mask mandates and vaccine requirements at schools as the Biden administration feuds with red states opposed to the novel coronavirus directives.
Dr. Murthy praised the COVID-19 vaccine requirements issued by some businesses and universities as “very reasonable,” citing the risk from the highly contagious delta variant ahead of the FDA’s anticipated full approval of the Pfizer vaccination.
“Well, we already know that there are many businesses and universities that have moved toward vaccine requirements,” said Dr. Murthy on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And I think that’s a very reasonable thing to do to create a safe environment.”
He also expressed support for mandatory vaccines for school staff.
“There’s one other thing, I think, we need to do that some states have been doing to create a safer school environment,” he said. “And that’s requiring that employees in the school, including teachers and other staff, are vaccinated as well to create a safer environment for our kids.”
Dr. Murthy’s endorsement came as school districts wrestle with how to reopen for the 2021-22 academic year, a debate pitting the Biden administration against red states like Florida and Texas that have prohibited school mask mandates.
‘We absolutely should be taking every step possible to protect our kids from this virus,” said Dr. Murthy on “Fox News Sunday.”
Asked host Chris Wallace: “Is the public health risk to children so great that it justifies President Biden ordering the government to perhaps take action against, for instance, Gov. [Ron] DeSantis in Florida, Gov. [Greg] Abbott in Texas for violating the civil rights of students, of children?”
Dr. Murthy said that while the virus has been less severe in children than adults, the number of kids hospitalized with COVID-19 is now higher than at any time during the pandemic, thanks to the highly contagious Delta variant.
“So we absolutely should be taking every step possible to protect our kids from this virus,” said Dr. Murthy. “And the way we protect kids is really two-fold, Chris. We all get vaccinated, because kids who can’t get vaccinated depend on those around them to shield them from the virus. And we also take measures in schools which include masks, testing, better ventilation. These are the strategies that we know work.”
He added that “we know that the greatest protection to children is when all people are masked in school.”
The efficacy of mask mandates has come into question from critics such as Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, a physician, who has argued that the over-the-counter cloth masks that most people wear don’t prevent infection.
Govs. Abbott and DeSantis have emphasized that anyone who wants to wear a mask may do so, but stress that parents should be the final decision-makers on whether their children should wear masks while challenging the federal government over its shifting stances on facial coverings.
The Florida Board of Education issued warnings Friday that school officials who follow through on mask mandates risk having their paychecks withheld, while Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said last week that those salaries could be paid by federal COVID-19 relief dollars.