Schools “Strongly” Encouraging Masks as Covid Cases Continues to Rise

Schools “Strongly” Encouraging Masks as Covid Cases Continues to Rise

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Indiana, like many states in the U.S., is experiencing a rapid increase in the number of children in hospitals due to COVID-19. 

One in 38 kids with a positive COVID-19 test is hospitalized in Indiana.

Last week, 1,452 new student cases were confirmed throughout the state and nearly 200 new cases were also reported among teachers and staff.

As Covid-19 cases continue to rise around Indiana since mid-July (there have been 181 new cases in Washington County and two deaths since August 1), schools are trying to mitigate the damage and work with little advice from the state or local health departments other than to wear masks, social distance and wash hands. 

 
Local schools are left with “strongly” recommending that students and staff wear masks to school. 
 
In a letter sent out to parents this morning, Salem School’s Administrator Brent Minton, “We want to once again encourage everyone to wear a mask in the school buildings. We continue to have high numbers of students quarantining due to Covid contact tracing.

Minton said contact tracing only puts a student or staff member out of school if the individual is not wearing a mask and has not been vaccinated. 

 
“Individuals who are wearing a mask correctly and are at least 3 feet apart will not have to quarantine. This will keep students and staff in school,” said Minton. 
 
West Washington Superintendent Keith Nance released a social media letter last Thursday and noted “With schools in surrounding counties closing and going completely virtual for several weeks, an increase in numbers locally and most importantly positive cases at our school we have decided that additional mitigation measures are needed.”
 
At the beginning of this school year, West Washington only had a plan for students to attend in person, while Salem and East Washington Schools continued to provide a virtual option for students. 
 
Nance said the schools have immediately implemented stricter seating charts and efforts to increase distancing in all areas that we can, he wrote. “However, some classes do not allow for [the] distancing necessary to decrease the [number] of students caught up in contact tracing.”
 
“Therefore we are asking that you please help us and encourage your child to wear a mask/face shield in indoor congregate settings,” noted Nance. 
 
He explained that congregate settings include the hallway, school bus (which has been required since the start of school), and classrooms where individuals cannot sufficiently distance themselves from one another.
 
“We are requiring staff members to wear masks/face shields in those settings,” he added. 
 
He said quarantines will only be required where students are masked and in close/direct contact and clearly for the 15-minute threshold.  He said contact tracing guidelines call for 3 feet of distance for those individuals masked. 
 
“We believe this amount of distancing is possible in most situations and will drastically reduce the number of individuals that have to quarantine and become sick,” Nance said. 
 
Nance said he was aware this was a very polarizing situation “but our goal is to stay open and educate our students in person. Safety is a concern, additionally, we believe education is an essential part of a productive, functional, and prosperous society. Masks allow us to quarantine fewer students, have fewer sick students/staff and remain open and that is why we are asking you to please encourage your child to wear a mask in indoor congregate settings.”
 
“At a minimum, mask-wearing is an act that can help us quarantine fewer students,” Nance noted. 
 
Nance also noted that when Covid numbers go down at the school and in the community, “we will relax our mitigation measures.”
 
East Washington Schools are facing an increase in Covid at their schools as well.
 
The school’s board meets Tuesday, Aug. 24 at 5p and they are anticipating those who will be asking about a mask mandate.
 
According to Superintendent Dennis Stockdale, there is no scheduled action by the Board at this meeting concerning a mask mandate. 
 
He said the current mask recommendation will remain in effect.
“The CDC and ISDH guidelines state that students may be exempt from quarantine if they are vaccinated as long as they remain symptom-free,” said Stockdale. “These guidelines also provide guidance on recommended mask wearing. We are currently following the CDC-issued Order requiring the wearing of masks by people on public transportation conveyances, which include public school buses.”
 
Stockdale said the school’s quarantine procedures support the students remaining in class without instituting a mask mandate.
“Unvaccinated students who have chosen to wear a mask while at school and remain symptom-free will not have to quarantine due to being in close contact with a person diagnosed with Covid-19,” he said. “If the student later develops symptoms or tests positive, they would then be required to quarantine.”
 
Since the Board realizes mask-wearing is a very prominent issue at this time in public schools, comments will be heard concerning the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting.
 
If the public would like to address the board, they should contact the central office to be added to the comment list.
 
The public comment portion of the meeting is limited to one hour. Each person on the list would traditionally be allotted 10 minutes; however, individual time may be reduced to accommodate all persons wishing to speak.
 
“It is each parent’s decision to determine whether or not their child wears a mask and/or is vaccinated,” he said. “Before any mask mandate would be issued by East Washington, a public meeting would be held inviting comments and concerns from parents and community members.”
 
Minton said the corporation wanted to prevent the Salem Schools from going virtual. 
 
“This can only happen if we each do our part in preventing the spread of Covid-19,” noted Minton. “We encourage everyone to wash their hands and we ask that you encourage your students to wear a mask. Hand sanitizer and masks are available in each building.”
 
Minton also pointed out that if a child is not feeling well and is exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19, “please do not send your student to school. Notify the school and take your child to their health care provider for treatment.”
 
According to the ISDH Covid-19 dashboard, there are less than 5 cases reported for Bradie M. Shrum and Salem Middle School. Salem High School reportedly has 7 cases of Covid-19 among students. 
 
Eastern Schools reported less than 5 cases. 
 
West Washington Elementary School reported less than 5 cases and West Washington Jr and Sr. High School reported 13 cases of Covid. 
 
That information was last updated by the state on August 16 and includes results from August 13. 
 
The information can be found here – https://www.coronavirus.in.gov/2393.htm