Business Insider: Students face anxiety and stress over COVID-19, and fierce battles over school mask mandates fuel the turmoil, experts say
By Reed Alexander
Since the school year began, 16-year-old Brandon Perkins has been carrying hand sanitizer everywhere he goes.
He's fully vaccinated, he told Insider in an interview on Saturday, and, at his high school in Strongsville, Ohio, he and his friends wear masks — though plenty of others don't, he said.
The Strongsville City Schools district "strongly recommends" that students and staff wear masks while indoors, the superintendent said in a recent letter to parents. But they're not required.
The situation comes amid an alarming surge in new coronavirus infections nationwide, driven by the Delta variant.
The US registered more than 150,000 new cases on Sept. 15, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the country has added more than 100,000 cases nearly every day since early August.
Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Oklahoma are among states that have prohibited mask mandates at schools, while 25 states have no policy in place one way or another, according to a review of states' policies by US News & World Report.
States' patchwork public health policies have fanned the flames of stress and confusion for young people — many of whom are fearful of the virus' effects or wary of passing it on to family members — according to four adolescent mental health providers interviewed by Insider.
"When you have an environment where the leadership has not made it clear that masking is required, we tend to see more difficulty," Shayla Sullivant, a psychiatrist who specializes in children and adolescent care at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, told Insider.
"Some young people who are trying to stick with wearing masks in an environment where that is not the norm have really struggled," Sullivant added. "It's hard as a teenager, as a child, to be different from others — and it's also hard to take on that added risk of exposure."
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Learn about the COVID-19 Vaccine at Children's Mercy