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'Unmask Our Kids' protest held in East Lyme

East Lyme — Reflecting a growing movement across the country, six adults and five kids participated in an "Unmask Our Kids" protest around noon Saturday at Flanders Four Corners, as many people driving by honked in support and gave a thumbs-up from their car windows.

They held signs you may have seen on lawns or at rallies elsewhere: "Unmask our kids – Call Gov. Lamont – 860-566-4840 – Call board of ed – unmaskourkidsct.com."

Dozens rallied against mask mandates for kids outside the governor's mansion June 24, and protests have popped up in other towns across Connecticut.

The Unmask Our Kids CT Facebook page has more than 3,200 likes, and a private group has about 10,700 members. The private group Unmask Our Kids – Waterford & East Lyme, CT has nearly 300 members.

East Lyme native Hannah Skates, 24, organized the protest Saturday at Flanders Four Corners. She doesn't have kids but said she has a lot of friends in this area with children, and said, "My parents raised me to stand up for what I believe in. I believe in parents' rights."

Mark Capasso of Ledyard was there to show support with his 7-year-old, who is home-schooled.

"I think it's time for us to get back our freedom. It's been over a year since COVID hit, and I want to see the kids without masks," said Bozrah resident Elin Hill, who came with one of her kids. Her daughter, 8-year-old Julia, said kids can get hot in the summer with masks.

Hill said Julia is home-schooled, while her two older kids were going to go to public school but she decided to keep them home because of the masks.

Leah Fennell has three boys — ages 9, 8 and 6 — at Salem School but kept them home last year "because I thought it would not be good for their learning to be wearing masks." Both Hill and Fennell said they haven't decided yet what their kids will do this fall.

People who oppose this movement have said that kids wear masks without complaining, and that mask-wearing is important for protecting kids who aren't eligible to be vaccinated.

CDC changes guidance

Braeden Fennell, 9, said about mask-wearing, "I think it's more to the parents and their children to decide." In addition to a focus on parental choice, another theme that came up at the protest was frustration with the "flip-flopping" of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC in May said people who are fully vaccinated don't need to wear masks. On July 9, the CDC released updated "Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools," which indicated that vaccinated students, teachers and staff don't need to wear masks.

Also in July, the journal Nature ran an article with the headline, "Deaths from COVID 'incredibly rare' among children." The article said two studies found that among 6,338 hospital admissions for COVID-19 in England, 4.1% were children and young people requiring treatment in pediatric intensive care units.

The CDC page now has an update at the top that states, "Given new evidence on the B.1.617.2 (delta) variant, CDC has updated the guidance for fully vaccinated people. CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place."

The CDC on July 27 recommended "that fully vaccinated persons wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission." New London County is currently marked as having substantial transmission.

Skates criticized the CDC for not releasing the study backing up the recommendation, and the Washington Post reported that the sudden shift prompted experts to ask, "Where's the data?" The CDC document stated, "Emerging evidence suggests that fully vaccinated persons who do become infected with the Delta variant are at risk for transmitting it to others" and cited "CDC COVID-19 Response Team, unpublished data, 2021."

The CDC has since released the data: On Friday, it published a report showing that after "multiple large public events" in Provincetown, Mass., in July, 469 COVID-19 cases were identified among state residents, of which 74% occurred in fully vaccinated people.

The delta variant was found in 90% of specimens taken from 133 people. Among five COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized, four were fully vaccinated, including two with underlying medical conditions; none of them died.

As study limitations, the CDC noted, "As population-level vaccination coverage increases, vaccinated persons are likely to represent a larger proportion of COVID-19 cases. Second, asymptomatic breakthrough infections might be underrepresented because of detection bias."

A new study out of Singapore found that among 218 people infected with the delta variant, "the odds of severe COVID-19 requiring oxygen supplementation was significantly lower following vaccination," and while initial viral loads were similar between vaccinated and unvaccinated groups, viral loads decreased faster in vaccinated people.

In Connecticut, Department of Public Health data showed that of 651 COVID-related deaths reported between Feb. 21 and July 1, 97.8% were among people who were unvaccinated, the Stamford Advocate reported.

Of the adults at the protest, three said they were not vaccinated, one said she was, and one declined to say. Only people age 12 and older are eligible to get the vaccine.

e.moser@theday.com

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