North Carolina Senate Republicans fail to override Governor Cooper’s veto on school mask bill ::

– State Senate Republicans tried, but failed Wednesday, to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a measure allowing parents to exempt their students from school mask requirements. The vote was 27 to 21, but Republicans needed 30 yes votes to override.

GOP leaders proceeded with the vote despite a new ABC Science Collaborative study showing that school mask requirements reduced COVID-19 transmission in schools by 87%.

The new study, published Wednesday in the journal Pediatrics, tracking data from 61 districts in nine states during the fall semester of the current school year.

“What is unique about this data is that it is truly the first to be a large study in the United States with a comparison group. Both masking districts and non-masking districts participated” , said the co-chair of the collaboration, Dr. Danny Benjamin. “And that was during the Delta wave and the introduction of Omicron.”

Benjamin, a professor of pediatrics at Duke, said the group added a calculator to its site to help school leaders predict how many additional COVID-19 cases they can expect if masking is optional.

“In times of high transmission, or when we maybe have a variant that evades immunity, or if we have a variant that evades vaccination, or a higher mortality rate, then schools can look at our data on the decision of whether or not it is better for them to hide,” he said.

Republican legislative leaders have said they don’t believe cloth masks, which students wear most often, protect against the omicron or delta variants of COVID-19. But Benjamin said the new study clearly shows that even cloth masks helped reduce transmission.

Benjamin declined to comment on the bill banning school mask mandates, but added, “When you’re in an environment where a lot of people congregate and you have aspects of unpredictability when it comes to transmission, the flexibility, whether schools or other community entities – flexibility in your approach is generally a good thing to have.”

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, pointed out that just a year ago, Senate Leader Phil Berger hailed the ABC Science Collaborative as the top school safety researchers.

“It defies science to me to the extent that the body that has been hailed by the Republican majority now is not being tracked in a critical study that just came out,” Chaudhuri told WRAL News.

Senate Republicans hold 28 seats, but needed 30 votes to override their veto. Chaudhuri, the Democratic whip, said he was confident Senate Democrats would uphold the veto.

“The fact that we don’t have a statewide mask mandate, but are voting on a bill that relates to mask mandates to me illustrates that Republicans are the ones politicizing masks in the purpose of preparing for the 2022 elections,” said Chaudhuri.

Maria D. Ervin