Most US public schools plan to keep masks optional for start of classes

Most of the largest public school districts in the United States do not require masks for the new school year, making masking “optional” as students return to class and the BA.5 subvariant highly transmissible is spreading.

While these policies may change if Covid-19 case rates rise or fall, not everyone in a district might be receptive to the change, Cruz said.

“The possibility of imposing masks is there, in the event of a surge, but I must say that it will be much more difficult to implement this mask mandate if it came down to this because we have been without masks now for years. long periods,” said Cruz, whose district starts school in early September.

In its guidelines for schools, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal indoor masking in K-12 schools and early childhood education programs located in counties with community level Covid -19 is high.
Nearly half – 45.8% – of US counties are at high community levels of Covid-19, CDC data shows.
Of the top 500 K-12 school districts, based on enrollment, in the United States, about 98% do not require masks, according to school policy tracker from data company Burbio.

Many of the nation’s largest school systems — including Los Angeles Unified, City of Chicago, Miami-Dade County and Clark County in Nevada — start school in August.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 cases are rising again in the United States, driven by the Omicron BA.5 subvariant, the most transmissible strain of the coronavirus to date. More than 14 million children have tested positive for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to available state reports; more than 311,000 of those cases have been added in the past four weeks, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported last week.
Millions of children will return to school in the days and weeks to come without being vaccinated. A CNN analysis reveals that less than half of children and adolescents, aged 5 to 17, are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and only a tenth have been boosted.

“Working to live with this virus”

In some communities, like those in New York State, classes are not expected to start until early September – and school officials are awaiting updates from their local health departments regarding Covid mitigation measures -19 to implement this next school year. Many school districts continue to disinfect surfaces and explore upgrading ventilation systems.

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“Many schools will continue certain mitigation strategies this fall, such as cleaning and disinfecting, upgrading HVAC systems. Masks will be optional,” wrote Randall W. Squier, superintendent of schools for the Central School District of Coxsackie-Athens in New York. in an email to CNN on Tuesday.

“Schools are still struggling to provide a remote learning option for students. If COVID-19 cases increase, we will follow any recommendations or mandates from our state Department of Health,” a- he writes.

Regarding masking, “in the absence of any specific mask mandate from the state, most superintendents will work with their county health departments to establish guidelines for optional mask wearing,” wrote Squier in his email. “Superintendents are trying to establish a regional approach to any pandemic directive to avoid confusion among our families and employees who may work and live in neighboring counties.”

With mask-wearing having become optional in most schools, Squier wrote that he has noticed tensions around masks among parents and staff easing in his area.

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“Since New York State lifted the mask mandate in March, there has been no movement from school districts to reintroduce a mask mandate,” he wrote. “Political rhetoric at school board meetings regarding mask mandates has died down since the mandate was lifted.”

Community tension around the masking “has dissipated,” said Daniel Bittman, superintendent of Independent School District 728 in Minnesota.

For Bittman District, which begins its new school year after Labor Day, masks will be optional but recommended for students in its five different counties.

“We won’t need masks for this particular school year,” Bittman told CNN.

“Masking in our particular district is always recommended, especially if cases are added at a time that we consider critical. At this point, the number of cases is considerably low,” he said. “So we’re working very closely with our Department of Education as well as our Department of Health to monitor that and so we won’t need that at this time.”

Bittman added that if there was an increase in cases, there might be mask requirements at a particular school or classroom, but not district-wide.

In many districts, said Cruz of the School Superintendents Association, superintendents and school boards are in constant consultation with their local health departments to develop Covid-19 mitigation measures and policies — something that could become a regular part of living with Covid-19 and other infectious diseases in the future.

“We’re definitely working hand in hand. Schools and governments are really working to live with this virus and figure out how we can continue to keep schools open for students,” Cruz said. “I think we’re in a place now where we’re learning and working to live with it.”

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