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Arizona Doctor Urges School Mask Requirements After Her Child Was Exposed To COVID-19

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A tweet from a doctor in Phoenix last week spoke to the frustrations a lot of parents are feeling right now as governors in states like Florida, Texas and Arizona continue to ban school districts from mandating masks. The tweet read, quote, "We have sacrificed so much for you over these past 18 months, and it took only three days for you to destroy one of the last things I was hanging onto - the ability to keep my kids safe." That tweet was from Dr. Christina Bergin. She said three days after her daughter started school, her 10-year-old was exposed to the virus, though thankfully not infected.

Dr. Christina Bergin joins us now. Welcome.

CHRISTINA BERGIN: Thank you so much for having me.

CHANG: I'm really glad to hear your daughter didn't get COVID. She was wearing a mask at the time?

BERGIN: Yeah, absolutely. She and her sister are really good about wearing their masks.

CHANG: That's really good to hear. Yeah, I understand all children in Arizona at least have the option to wear masks, but it's an option. Mandates are banned. So after a year and a half of trying your best to almost hermetically seal off the pandemic from your family, your daughter goes back to school, someone there tests positive for COVID. What went through your mind when you first found out that news? This was three days...

BERGIN: Yeah.

CHANG: ...After she began school.

BERGIN: Yeah, three days. A lot of thoughts and emotions immediately went through my mind. But I think the most prominent were fear, disappointment and frustration. We have really taken so many precautions over the past 18 months. And because of a law that prohibits schools from mandating certain mitigation measures like universal masking, only three days of school undid those 18 months of vigilance and sacrifice. And it was tremendously upsetting. It still is, particularly because it was preventable. The data is clear. There's no risk associated with wearing masks, and there is tremendous risk to not wearing masks right now.

CHANG: Well, you certainly struck a nerve with a lot of people. What's been the response so far to your Twitter thread?

BERGIN: By and large, it has been overwhelmingly positive. It shows that parents, teachers, other physicians all across the country are feeling similarly distressed about the dangerous situation that we're being asked to send our children into. And I think all of the teachers and parents and physicians who have responded - we all want our children to attend school in person, and we also want to protect our children from illness and the potential long-term consequences of COVID infection. And we're all distraught that we're unable to do that.

CHANG: I saw that you specifically called out the governor of your state, Doug Ducey. He's a Republican. And you wrote that he is, quote, "forcing schools to reopen without the ability to implement the same measures that kept kids and staff safe last year." Tell me about that. Like, what important differences are you seeing between the safety measures from last year and the safety measures in place this year?

BERGIN: You know, it's an entirely different ballgame right now with the delta variant. So it's this one-two punch of a much worse situation because of the virus itself and because people are no longer doing the mitigation measures that we know work and are safe.

CHANG: Well, going forward, I mean, how are you weighing the risks of sending your daughters to school at this point? Like, what options do you have?

BERGIN: Yeah. You know, it's even more difficult now than it was in 2020 to try and make that risk assessment of, you know, how do we handle school? And I'm much more fearful for my children's health now than I was for the entirety of last year. My daughter's school, like many other schools and districts, are not offering any online or virtual learning at all this year, even temporarily for quarantine reasons. And so my husband and I feel like we're being forced to send her to school, despite knowing that it's not as safe as it should be.

CHANG: Dr. Christina Bergin practices internal medicine at University Medical Center in Phoenix.

Thank you so much for joining us today.

BERGIN: Thank you so much for having me.

CHANG: And we reached out to Governor Doug Ducey's office for comment. We haven't yet heard back. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.