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More than twice as many Americans say students and staff should be required to wear masks in schools as say they shouldn’t, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll — and they oppose Republican efforts to prevent local school districts from requiring masks by a similar 2-1 margin.
The survey of 1,649 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Aug. 16 to 18, found that parents and the broader public are both firmly on the side of school districts that have taken to defying GOP governors such as Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott of Texas. Despite orders to the contrary, such districts have been implementing their own mask mandates as the hypercontagious Delta variant rips through undervaccinated parts of the country.
Nearly 6 in 10 Americans (57 percent) say they disagree with DeSantis-style bans on universal masking in schools; just half as many (29 percent) agree. When asked whether masks should be required in schools while Delta is surging, the gap is even larger: A full 62 percent of Americans say yes, while just 26 percent say no.
The reason why prohibiting mask requirements in school is so unpopular is simple: As kids under the age of 18 head back to class, nearly two-thirds of their parents (65 percent) are either “very” (38 percent) or “somewhat” (27 percent) worried about them catching and spreading COVID-19.
Already, tens of thousands of students and staff have been showing up for the first days of instruction only to discover — almost immediately — that they now have to isolate or quarantine for a week or more after testing positive themselves or coming into close contact with someone who has.
It’s no surprise, then, that about 6 in 10 parents also say that students and staff should be required to wear masks at school while Delta is surging (61 percent) and that they will tell their own children to wear a mask at school, regardless of whether masks are required (62 percent).
Only about half as many parents say otherwise.
DeSantis and others have framed their opposition to masking in schools — which works best if everyone is doing it — as a matter of parental choice. But the poll makes clear that the vast majority of pushback to school mask requirements breaks down along partisan lines. More than 8 in 10 Democrats favor school mask requirements (88 percent), disagree with bans on them (83 percent) and, if they are parents, say they will tell their kids to cover their faces in class (82 percent). Six in 10 independents say the same.
Republicans, meanwhile, are the only group that takes the opposite view on each of these questions, with about half saying they oppose school mask requirements (50 percent), agree with bans on them (55 percent) and, if they are parents, will not tell their kids to cover their faces in class (49 percent).
Republican parents are also much less worried (39 percent) than Democrats (85 percent) or independents (63 percent) about their kids getting COVID — which likely explains why they are less inclined to want masks in schools.
Even so, it’s notable that anti-mask views are far less popular among Republicans than pro-mask views are among Democrats. A full 44 percent of Republican parents, for instance, say they will tell their kids to mask up at school, and the combined number of Republicans who say they either favor school mask requirements (36 percent) or aren’t sure (15 percent) is slightly larger than the number who oppose such mandates (again, 50 percent).
Overall, about half of parents (52 percent) report that their school districts require masks; 25 percent say they do not, and 22 percent are unsure. At least 10 percent of all parents, therefore, say they will send their children to school wearing masks in districts that do not mandate them.
Masks are one of the most effective and efficient strategies for minimizing SARS-CoV-2 transmission, and one of the only methods available for children under 12, who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. But experts also say that a key part of keeping younger children safe and schools open is for everyone around them — parents, siblings, teachers, staff and older students — to get vaccinated. The lower the infection rate in the surrounding community, the fewer cases will crop up in classrooms.
In light of Delta’s rapid spread — and the early disruptions it’s causing in schools — the number of parents who now say they will get their kids vaccinated when such shots are “fully approved for use in minors” jumped 7 points over the last two weeks, from 33 percent to 40 percent, with the shift coming almost entirely from a decline in “not sure” responses. Another 17 percent of parents say their minor children –– presumably children between the ages of 12 and 17 –– are already vaccinated.
Still, as the Yahoo News/YouGov poll has repeatedly shown, those who are most likely to contract and spread COVID continue to say they are doing the least to protect themselves and others. In this case, unvaccinated parents are more than twice as likely to say they will send their kids to school without masks (41 percent) as vaccinated parents (17 percent).
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,649 U.S. adults interviewed online from Aug. 16 to Aug. 18, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or non-vote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7 percent.
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