Officials at the San Diego Unified School District said on Tuesday that employees would be removing a letter from President Donald Trump that had been inserted into food baskets "because it significantly diminishes the scientifically-backed importance of wearing a mask to protect against the transmission of COVID-19."
Recipients of free groceries -- as many as 50 million families nationwide -- are getting the baskets from the USDA Farmers to Family program, according to San Diego Unified, which said the note was being taken out of the boxes because it contains what the district called misleading information about preventing the coronavirus, telling people to "consider wearing a face mask in public" rather than instructing them to do so. The letter also tells people to wash their hands, stay home if they're sick and to protect vulnerable populations, including people 80 years of age and older and others with pre-existing conditions.
"Science is clear: Wearing a mask works to prevent the spread of the coronavirus," Superintendent Cindy Marten is quoted as saying in a news release issued Tuesday night by the district. "Masks are required in California and on every San Diego Unified school campus. It is not optional, as the president wrote in his letter."
Marten was joined in her criticism of the letter by Trustee Dr. Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, according to San Diego Unified, who said that the federal government "was failing to follow state health mandates when communicating to the most disadvantaged students. [Whitehurst-Payne] noted these same communities are among the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis and are suffering disproportionately."
"The COVID-19 virus has disproportionately impacted communities of color," Whitehurst-Payne said in the news release. “Not only are we facing higher rates of infection and mortality from the coronavirus, we have also been the hardest hit in terms of unemployment and hunger. To take advantage of that suffering by distributing misleading medical information is appalling. This is equivalent to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in terms of the level of contempt demonstrated toward our community.”
Whitehurst-Payne also said in the release that 60,000 children in California have contracted the virus and that she thought it was "irresponsible" that the president's letter implies that only people with pre-existing conditions and those over 80 need to be protected from COVID-19.