I have a recommendation about masks in Knox County schools. Unsolicited advice is usually worth at most what your pay for it, so I’m sure there are plenty of holes in my plan. But maybe it will inspire an actual creative person to solve the problem.
The school system should provide N95 respirators for any student or teacher who wants to wear them. Anyone who declines the free N95s can wear their homemade masks or go maskless.
Unlike cloth and convenience store masks, medical-grade, NIOSH-certified N95 masks are designed to protect the wearer. As of this week, the CDC website says that N95 respirators remove both bacteria and viruses from the inhaled airstream of the wearer.
Wear a cloth mask to protect others; wear an N95 to protect yourself. Or your child.
In March 2020 we were all warned that N95 masks were needed for health care workers. That was 18 months ago. In that time, we’ve created a vaccine and given it to 2.6 billion people, while still managing to solve the toilet paper crisis. If the U.S. has spent $9 trillion on Covid and we still don’t have enough N95 masks for everybody by now, there are a lot of people who need to lose their jobs.
And so what if there aren’t enough N95 masks for the entire country? Our local officials aren’t in charge of the entire country. They are in charge of our kids’ schools. Yes, that sounds selfish, but when it comes to our kids we have the relative moral luxury of being selfish.
Admittedly, I’m not an epidemiologist or wise politician, but I do buy a lot of stuff on Amazon. And on Amazon, NIOSH-certified N95 respirators cost about $3 a piece.
The Knox County School system received (or will receive) $114 million of Covid-19 relief money. How about using 10 percent of that money for N95 masks? That’s enough money to buy 3.8 million masks at Amazon, or a new mask every day for the rest of the school year for 36 percent of Knox County’s 60,000 public school students. Or the school system could buy enough masks for every child and still have $82 million left over.
I would even let them use my Prime account to avoid shipping costs.
When we hold a position so dearly that we can’t distinguish our opinion from our ego, we easily lose sight of that which we claim is our goal – and ignore alternate methods to achieve our preferred outcome. Few people deeply care specifically about masks, but the presence or absence of one has become a quick way to reach a moral judgement. Our shared real goal is something much different, I hope.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.