NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A member of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee's own COVID-19 task force is breaking ranks with the governor and his approach to the crisis, saying she is "fed up."
In an exclusive interview with NewsChannel 5 Investigates, Dr. Sara Cross of Memphis said she decided to speak up following Lee's decision to allow parents to opt out of their schools' mask mandates.
That decision, the infectious disease expert said, is not what the science suggests is needed.
"It kind of just hit really hard, what is happening out there, probably because I have a six-year-old daughter who might get directly affected," Cross said.
"This has become a political issue when really it is a public health crisis, and that’s what we need to make it."
Watch interview excerpt below:
On Monday, Lee issued an executive order that effectively strips local school boards of the ability to issue mask mandates to help prevent the spread of the virus among children. Parents can freely opt out of any such requirement if they don't like the mandate.
Both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended masking as children return to school.
"How can anybody say they’re following the science when they want to let parents opt out of mask for children in schools?"
Dr. Michael Smith, a pediatrics infectious disease expert at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., agreed with Cross on the importance of masking.
"The problem with an opt-out strategy," Smith said, "is masking is most effective when everyone does it."
Smith is part of the ABC Science Collaborative at Duke.
Recently, his team looked at data from 100 school districts and 14 charter schools in North Carolina and concluded that “full in-person instruction is safe for all grades and schools, and on school buses when masking is in place.”
Masking, the research showed, even allows schools to avoid having to impose extreme social distancing in the classroom and on buses.
"The key question," Smith told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, "for how we get schools to open safely and keep them open safely is what happens when you walk in the door, are students getting students or other faculty members sick with COVID.
"We know based on these two studies that we’ve done, masking has been associated with making that likelihood very, very low – less than one percent."
Then there’s Lee’s claim that "kid’s do not get sick from COVID" and that the virus is "an adult problem."
"Last year, we thought in pediatrics maybe we’re going to get lucky and this wasn’t going to impact children at all," Dr. Smith said.
"I think, look at what’s happening even in the last week across the country, we’re seeing more hospitalized children hospitalized with COVID. I’m seeing deaths due to COVID.
Dr. Cross agreed.
"Right now," she continued, "we have nine children in the intensive care unit at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in downtown Memphis and many more in the hospital maybe on their way to the intensive care unit. The numbers are only going to get worse."
The American Academy of Pediatrics also notes that:
- With COVID, “lingering respiratory symptoms are not uncommon” in children.
- “Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, can develop after COVID-19.”
- It can affect the nervous system, causing “subtle changes in attention, speech, school work, movement and mood.”
- Children “may be slower at reading and need more repetition and breaks while learning.”
- In rare cases, it can cause something called “multisystem inflammatory syndrome” that can be life-threatening.
"I’m fed up with the fact that our government doesn’t serve all of us in Tennessee," Cross said.
The member of the governor's task force said it’s time for politicians to stop playing doctor and to listen to the real experts who know medicine.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Is it fair to say that you’re fed up with the governor?"
"Well, she answered, "I think anyone in a situation, a healthcare professional who has been busting my butt for the past year and a half -- and we all have -- and also a mother of a child who is ineligible for a vaccine, I’m not necessarily saying I’m fed up with the governor, but I think it would probably be reasonable if someone in my situation were fed up with the governor."
We followed up, "And why aren’t you?"
"Well," Cross said, with a smile, "I didn’t say I wasn’t, did I?"
Another issue driving her frustration: the governor put together his COVID task force to advise him in March 2020, saying those experts would work closely with him and his team on the response.
Cross said they haven't met since last summer.