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CEO of Primary Health advocates for universal face mask mandates in Idaho schools: 'This is not a political issue, I'm providing medical facts'

Dr. David Peterman told The 208 that a universal face mask requirement in schools is the best way to protect children and staff.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — With August slowly turning into September, school districts across the Gem State are preparing to open school doors to students for in-person learning after last year was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the West Ada School District (WASD), Idaho's largest.

When the pandemic first began WASD consulted with Dr. David Pate, the retired CEO of St. Luke's Health System and a member of Idaho Gov. Brad Little's coronavirus task force. Dr. Pate stepped away from the role after the West Ada School District started going against his recommendations, like universal mask requirements, which the district ended in June.

WASD is still asking for local doctors' input, including Dr. David Peterman, the CEO of Primary Health Medical Group. He told The 208 on Monday that they've tested between 150,000 and 200,000 people for COVID-19 in their clinics since the pandemic began.

Peterman shared some of the startling statistics that he showed to school district officials with KTVB on Monday. One such statistic was the goal for test positivity rates was around 5% but currently, Ada County's positivity rate is close to 20%. 

As the delta variant continues its surge in the Gem State, more of Idaho's teens are getting sick with COVID-19. According to Peterman, the positivity rate for 12 to 18-year-olds was around 7-8% back in July but now it's near 20% just before the school year begins. During that timeframe, Primary Health saw a 15-fold increase in the number of kids between the ages of five and 18 who tested positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Peterman's main worry now is what happens in four weeks when Idaho's school children are back in classrooms. He said the Gem State could see thousands of kids test positive for COVID-19 per week at that point.

"Putting this all together, my strong recommendation, consistent with the American Academy of Pediatrics, is that there should be universal masking for both staff and children that are attending school," he told The 208 on Monday.

Peterman explained that a study commissioned by the state of North Carolina found after studying thousands of schools, ranging from elementary to university, that face mask mandates were the second-best solution to battling the spread of COVID-19, only behind vaccination. 

He added that no credible evidence has been found to connect wearing face masks to emotional issues in children.

"The American Academy of Pediatrics, which is made up of hundreds of thousands of pediatricians from all over the world, has stated unequivocally that there is no association of masks with any emotional detriment to children, and the fact that they made this statement that masks do not cause any harm in terms of children's development, language, and so there is no evidence, not credible evidence that masks in any way are harmful to our children," Dr. Peterman explained.

He also told The 208 that he understands parents' concerns about the health of their children and how to raise them, but people need to listen to the experts, especially the ones above him when it comes to children's health.

 "The facts are the delta virus is absolutely running rampant in our community. Number two; we don't want it to spread among our children like Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana," Peterman said. "The best way to stop that, the scientific way to protect our children, the teachers and our community, is for universal masking."

Peterman said it's an obligation as a pediatrician to tell school district officials the truth about the effectiveness of face masks.

"I don't claim to be a political official, I don't claim to be on the school board. This is not a political issue, I'm providing medical fact," he said.

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