Florida Tween Writes Poignant Letter Urging School Board to Follow CDC Mask Guidance

The 12-year-old's impassioned plea for increased safety precautions in schools, which was inspired by her younger brother, made national news. But will it make a difference?

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A 12-year-old girl is pleading with her school district to follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance and mandate masks in schools. Lila Hartley, who is vaccinated, says she's most concerned for her brother Will, 10, who is not.

Hoping someone would listen, Lila wrote a letter to the Duval County School Board and Superintendent school district.

"Right now, especially while the Delta variant is surging and killing so many kids, I really believe that masks should be required," Lila wrote. "I am so worried that if masks are not required, my brother could go to school one day and the next be dying. We are siblings, so we have our rivalries, but I don't know what I would do if he died, especially if it was caused by a place that means so much to him, school."

According to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association, children have made up less than .30 percent of all deaths related to COVID-19 in the U.S. since the pandemic began.

But pediatric hospitalizations are on the rise in Florida, with CBS News reporting that 135 children under the age of 18 are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state. It's a new record, albeit a small percentage of the more than 12,000 total Floridians hospitalized with COVID-19. That number also represents a new high and marks the third straight day the state broke its record for hospitalizations.

"Masks save lives," Lila continued in her plea. "That's a fact. People who are vaccinated should wear a mask. People who are unvaccinated should especially wear a mask…many others would feel so much safer if masks are required…If they are required, less people may contract COVID, and therefore less people will get really sick and die."

And people have heard Lila. CNN picked up on the story, but Lila told the network only one school board member responded to her letter.

But the tide may be turning. The New York Times reported late Thursday that Duval is one of four school districts seeking to impose a mask mandate.

Meanwhile, Lila's brother, Will, appreciated the letter and is concerned.

"I try not to dwell on it, but it's a big precaution of mine," Will told CNN. "That's why at school I wear two masks because I want to make sure I don't get sick."

Part of the problem is that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order banning school mask mandates last week. DeSantis believes it's a parent's choice to have their child wear a mask. Under the order, Florida could withhold state funding from schools that do not comply.

Of course, DeSantis' order defies the guidance issued by the CDC last week recommending all children and teachers wear masks in school, regardless of vaccination status. The advice, which comes as COVID-19 cases (particularly those stemming from the ultra-contagious Delta variant) are rising across the U.S.

Pediatric cases aren't just increasing in Florida. About 72,000 cases among U.S. children were reported last week, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association. That's a three percent uptick in children's cases from the previous two weeks, and it accounts for about 19 percent of the total cases in the country.

With all of this in mind, Vivek Cherian, M.D., an internal medicine physician affiliated with the University of Maryland Medical System, agrees that it's a good idea to wear a face mask indoors, especially in schools, to protect the health and safety of children.

"This is not a question of body autonomy, but rather a responsibility to keep our children—especially those that don't have the vaccine available to them as yet—safe and provide them the best odds against contracting COVID," Dr. Cherian told Parents last week.

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