How States Banning School Mask Mandates Rank for COVID Cases, Vaccinations

The regulatory battle over school mask mandates in the U.S. reached new heights this week when President Joe Biden said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona could take legal action against governors that ban them in schools.

Across the country, several state governors have issued orders banning schools from requiring students to wear masks.

These states include Florida, Texas, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

In response, a number of school districts have defied the ban.

Biden has argued that mask rules are guided by science and are there to protect children. He said in a press briefing on Wednesday: "Let's follow the educators and the scientists who know a lot more about how to teach our children and keep them safe than any politician.

"If you aren't going to fight COVID-19, at least get out of the way of everyone else who's trying."

Governors opposing the rules argue that mask mandates are a matter of personal freedom. On Monday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed an order allowing parents to opt out of any school mask mandate, and said in a tweet that parents "are the authority and will be the ultimate decision makers for their individual child's health and wellbeing."

According to Centers and Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, many of the states that have implemented school mask mandate bans are in the top ten states in terms of seven-day COVID case rates per 100,000 people.

As of August 18, Florida had the third-highest seven-day case rate at 703; South Carolina the fifth-highest at 460; Tennessee the sixth-highest at 456.3; and Oklahoma and Texas the ninth- and tenth-highest with 391 and 371.5, respectively.

It should be noted that some states were exceptions. Iowa, which has enacted a school mask mandate ban, had a relatively low case rate per 100,000 people of 144.7.

In addition, Hawaii and Oregon, which have both implemented school mask mandates and not banned them, have relatively high case rates at 333.4 and 315.9 respectively.

In terms of vaccinations per 100,000 people, there does not appear to be a particularly strong link between vaccination rates and school mask mandate bans.

Texas, Iowa, and Florida all have moderate vaccine rates relative to all other states at between 100,000 to 110,000 each, though Tennessee, South Carolina and Oklahoma are in the bottom 15.

Last week, Cardona sent letters to Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who threatened to withhold the salaries of school board members who defied the state ban on school mask mandates, as well as Texas governor Greg Abbott.

He said the anti-mask laws "forbid people from doing the right thing."

DeSantis' school mask mandate ban stated: "We should protect the freedoms and statutory rights of students and parents by resting with the parents the decision whether their children should wear masks in school."

Ron DeSantis
Florida governor Ron DeSantis is seen here holding a face mask during a press conference in Miami, July 2020. DeSantis is among the governors to have banned school mask mandates. Chandan Khanna/AFP / Getty