Most American parents favor masks for unvaccinated children and staff in school, but oppose mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for kids, according to a poll released Wednesday.
On Long Island, some pediatricians said the poll was promising in that it showed most parents understood the importance of masking. However they said medical experts — not popular opinion or school boards — should decide public health issues such as masking and vaccinations.
The survey came as debate heats up about masks in schools, and the Island's school districts are tasked with deciding policies after the New York State Department of Health did not issue mandates.
The poll, by the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that 63% of parents of school-age children think schools should require unvaccinated students and staff to wear masks on campus.
The poll also found that 58% of parents of 12- to 17-year-old kids, who are now eligible for vaccination, say schools should not require students to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
A similar share — 54% — of parents of school-age children said schools should not require vaccination even after the FDA fully approves the use of a COVID-19 vaccine in children.
Molloy College on Wednesday issued a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all employees by Sept. 1, citing the spread of the delta variant. A mandate for students was announced July 27.
Eighty percent of employees have already submitted proof of vaccination, the college said. After Sept. 1, those not fully vaccinated will not be permitted at any Molloy location unless they have obtained a medical or religious exemption or a temporary waiver to complete a vaccination series.
In Port Washington, the school board approved a reopening plan Tuesday night to mandate indoor masking for students and staff. Vaccinations, however, are not required.
Superintendent Michael Hynes said the mask mandate was largely based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and expertise of pediatricians on the schools’ reopening committee.
"The fact that Suffolk County Department of Health made that recommendation [for masking], I think, at that point, made it a no-brainer for us," Hynes said.
But when it comes to vaccinations, the superintendent said the decision shouldn’t be left to educators.
"If it’s going to be a mandate, I don’t believe that should come from a school district," he said. "That should come from a higher power, whether it’s the governor [or] New York State Department of Health. That’s something that should come above — not from — a school district."
Hempstead Schools Superintendent Regina Armstrong said Wednesday that a final plan -— likely with an indoor mask mandate -— will be voted on at a board meeting Aug. 26, following a preliminary plan to be presented Aug. 19. The first day of school in Hempstead is Sept. 9.
"We will probably return the same way we left, with a mask requirement for all," she said. "Without the mask wearing, the school district is in danger of closing more often because of any cases that [may] pop up."
Although the district has encouraged vaccinations, she said it wouldn’t be required.
"We can’t mandate it unless it’s something that comes down from the state," she said. " … We are hoping with everything that’s going on that more people will see that vaccination is needed."
Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Medicine, said Wednesday the Kaiser survey showed many parents understood part of the COVID-19 situation.
"I do think the majority of families want their kids in school to wear masks because they recognize that COVID is a threat, kids can get it, and they can get sick," Nachman said.
"Masks may be one of the best solutions that we have," she said.
But she and other doctors found it troubling that many people still opposed vaccination, and that parents and school officials were being asked to weigh in.
"Public health shouldn’t be guided by popular opinion when there’s a deadly pandemic circulating," said Dr. Eve Meltzer Krief, a pediatrician in Huntington who is also a local representative of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"If you leave it up to the popular opinion or the loud majority or the loudest voice in the room, our children will not be safe," she said. "These things really need to be determined by public health experts who understand the very real risks to children who are not vaccinated."
Krief said many parents have been inundated with false information on the internet and social media that they believe to be true — which may reflect the poll's finding of substantial opposition to the vaccine.
"It’s putting parents in a difficult position," Nachman said, "as to figure out what’s the best way scientifically forward to protect their children."
Both physicians said parents were best off talking to their children’s doctor to get accurate information about the vaccine. "I would encourage each family to talk to their medical provider and get the scoop that way. That doctor patient relationship works the best," she said. "It’ a much better route for parents to get information than looking at what’s available … on social media."
Krief said "pediatricians are extremely willing and able to address those concerns and assure them the vaccine is safe, it’s effective, and will work to prevent this disease from spreading among children and causing serious disease or worse."
Meanwhile, the number of new daily confirmed cases of COVID-19 jumped to 748 on Long Island, while the statewide level of positivity in testing for the virus surpassed 3% for the first time in months, state data released Wednesday showed.
The number of daily deaths linked to the virus Tuesday totaled 15, including three in Nassau County.
In test results completed Tuesday, Nassau registered 368 new cases, while Suffolk had 380. As recently as June, Long Island’s daily total was well below 100.
New York City registered 1,959 new daily cases in results from Tuesday.
The seven-day average for positivity also continued to inch up, hitting 3.60% on Long Island and 3.01% statewide.
Hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19 also continued to climb, increasing by 22 for a total of 1,367.
Medical experts say case numbers are rising because of the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, the relaxation of mandates for social distancing and mask wearing, and the large number of people who remain unvaccinated.
"As our numbers tick upward, it is more important now than ever that New Yorkers who are unvaccinated get their shot," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement. "The Delta variant is relentless and the best way to keep yourself and your loved ones safe is to get vaccinated. The vaccine is free, effective and accessible for those looking to get theirs as soon as possible."
In New York City, dozens of businesses are "early adopters" of the city’s vaccine mandate for indoor activities like bars, gyms, and other premises, including the business Related and the bar Union Hall in the Mayor Bill de Blasio's Park Slope, Brooklyn, neighborhood, according to a news release from the mayor’s office.
Certain businesses must adopt the mandate beginning next week — in which those patronizing or working must show proof of vaccination — but the so-called early adopters are imposing the mandate sooner than required.
Others on the mayor's list are the Durst Corporation, a Manhattan real estate agency, and the Queensboro, a restaurant in Jackson Heights, Queens.
With Matthew Chayes and Carol Polsky
Sign up to get COVID-19 text alerts at newsday.com/text.