NIH Director Condemns ‘Politics And Polarization’ Of School Mask Mandate Bans

Physician-geneticist doctor Francis Collins, director of NIH, delivers welcoming remarks ahead of US Vice President Kamala Harris receiving her second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at the National Institutes of Health... Physician-geneticist doctor Francis Collins, director of NIH, delivers welcoming remarks ahead of US Vice President Kamala Harris receiving her second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland, on January 26, 2021. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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August 15, 2021 5:23 p.m.

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins on Sunday took aim at mask mandate bans in schools as the Delta variant prompts upticks in COVID-19 cases throughout the country.

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Collins was pressed on why children in schools should wear masks as a mitigation strategy against the Delta variant, in light of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) crusade to overturn mask mandates in school districts that defied his order banning the public health measure.

Collins replied that the case for masking up in schools is “very strong” and pointed to the CDC’s website, which shows evidence of COVID-19 outbreaks in schools without mask requirements in place.

Collins then took aim at the “politics and polarization” surrounding mask-wearing.

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“This mask that I’m holding has somehow become a symbol that it never should’ve been — this is basically just a life-saving medical device and somehow it’s being seen as an invasion of your personal liberty,” Collins said. “We never should’ve gone there.”

Collins added that he finds the resistance to mask-wearing “heartbreaking” as someone who is not a politician, but is a scientist.

“I am a scientist and a public health person and a doctor to see how masks have gotten into this very strange place with parents that are shouting about it and we never should allow that to happen,” Collins said.

Asked about a viral video showing anti-mask parents threatening medical professionals who spoke out in support of mask mandates during a school board meeting in Tennessee’s Williamson County School District last week, Collins said he found it “devastating” to see “the most advanced technological society on the planet” cave to putting politics, social media conspiracies and “this incredible depth of anger and grievance” over facts.

“Our future as a nation has got to revolve around coming away from that kind of approach to everything or I don’t see how we are going to solve all of society’s problems which are looming in front of us,” Collins said. “If I have one thing that I’m worried about, it’s not just the epidemic of COVID-19. It’s the epidemic of misinformation, disinformation, distrust that is tearing us apart.”

In the past week, local officials have defied Republican governors’ bans on mask mandates in schools as the Delta variant runs rampant throughout the country. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) have threatened local officials for bucking their orders by taking fights to courts and warning school district leaders that their salaries will be cut if they refuse to comply, respectively. (DeSantis’ office eventually walked back the Florida governor’s threat to cut pay from school district leaders by acknowledging that it has no say in determining local employees’ pay.)

The Biden administration has come to the defense of school district leaders who defy Republican governors’ ban on school mask mandates.

In a letter to DeSantis and his Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote that he was “deeply concerned” by DeSantis’ ban on school mask mandates. Cardona offered reassurance to Florida school district leaders by writing that federal relief funds could be put towards school districts that would lose funds over passing local coronavirus safety measures.

“We are eager to partner with [Florida Department of Education] on any efforts to further our shared goals of protecting the health and safety of students and educators,” Cardona wrote. “If FLDOE does not wish to pursue such an approach, the Department will continue to work directly with the school districts and educators that serve Florida’s students.”

Watch Collins’ remarks below:

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