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Health Department, School Board Agree In-Person Instruction Top Priority for Students
Masks Best Tool to Keep Kids in School, Minimize Quarantine, and Reduce Transmission
The Board of Education met on Friday, August 13, 2021, in a Special Open Session to further discuss the 2021-2022 Reopening Plan. During the meeting, members had the opportunity to hear from Jenelle Mayer, Health Officer, and Dr. Jennifer Corder, Deputy Health Officer at the Allegany County Health Department regarding COVID-19 prevention strategies and quarantine updates. “If we learned anything from this past year it’s that we need to keep students in school for in-person instruction,” said Ms. Mayer. “In-person instruction is the best thing for students for a number of reasons, including socialization, development, and access to healthy food, and masks are the best tool to keep kids safe in school and to reduce transmission.”
The school board voted on an amendment to the 2021-2022 Reopening Plan to begin the school year requiring that all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors. This mandate becomes effective Monday, August 16, 2021.
According to Dr. Corder, “Returning to school for in-person instruction is very important. Vaccinations are the best defense against the virus, so we encourage people who have the opportunity to be vaccinated, to get the vaccine.”
Universal mask mandates not only reduce the transmission of COVID-19 but also support the broader and more important goal of maximum in-person instruction for students. With ACPS’s new mask requirement for all staff and students indoors in place, the need to quarantine will only apply to those students who are symptomatic for the virus.
“Masking is so important for a number of reasons,” said Ms. Mayer. “It number one reduces the transmission of COVID-19, and number two greatly reduces the number of kids that will have to be out of school for quarantine.” According to the updated guidance from the CDC, if all STUDENTS are masked indoors they are exempt from quarantine if they are at least three feet away from a positive case in the classroom and they are not symptomatic.
“The number of kids out on quarantine would grow exponentially from last year if masks weren’t required indoors,” stated Ms. Mayer. “With mandatory masking in place indoors, only the positive person would have to quarantine as long as physical distancing of three feet was maintained, and all other students would be able to continue to go to school and participate in all of their other daily activities.”
It is important to note that some quarantining will still occur because masks are not required outdoors. If a vaccinated student is a close contact with a positive case outdoors, they will not have to quarantine if they are not showing symptoms; however, if an unvaccinated student is a close contact with a positive case outdoors, they would be required to quarantine, regardless of being symptomatic or not. To date, 21.4% of youth ages 12-17 are fully vaccinated in Allegany County, and 26.6% have received their first dose of vaccine.
The ultimate goal of Allegany County Public Schools is to welcome students back to school buildings for face-to-face instruction and keep them there thus preventing interruptions in their daily lives while also reducing the spread of the virus within the community. ACPS will utilize a variety of layered prevention strategies to keep students in school including encouraging vaccination for eligible staff and students; indoor masking; physical distancing; and increased ventilation within buildings.
ACPS will continue to work collaboratively with the ACHD throughout the pandemic, and beginning October 1, 2021, will begin to monitor the CDC data tracker for Allegany County. If the metrics place Allegany County in the low or moderate classification for two consecutive Fridays for community transmission, masks inside buildings will be recommended but not required. Masks continue to be optional outdoors. ACPS will provide more details regarding COVID-19 guidelines to staff upon their return to school next week.