State Returns to Mask Mandate in Schools

Posted July 30, 2021 at 5:00 am by

Vera Davidova on Unsplash, Contributed.

From the Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Health

Safe­ly return­ing to the class­room for full­time in-per­son instruc­tion this school year is impor­tant for stu­dents, teach­ers and staff.

July 28, the Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Health released updat­ed guid­ance for the 2021–22 school year.

DOH’s guid­ance aims to min­i­mize trans­mis­sion and max­i­mize in-per­son instruc­tion and is informed by the lat­est sci­ence, recent­ly released Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion guid­ance and rec­om­men­da­tions from the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Pediatrics.

Vac­ci­na­tion is the strongest pro­tec­tive mea­sure against COVID-19 avail­able. Every­one 12 and old­er is eli­gi­ble for the COVID-19 vac­cine. As of July 24, 35% of 12–15-year-olds and 44% of 16–17-year-olds in Wash­ing­ton state were ful­ly vac­ci­nat­ed. Those who have not been vac­ci­nat­ed are encour­aged to make an appoint­ment as soon as possible. 

While chil­dren who get COVID-19 typ­i­cal­ly have milder symp­toms than adults, chil­dren do get COVID-19 and can trans­mit it. Severe dis­ease is rare, but some chil­dren require hos­pi­tal­iza­tion. Fur­ther, the Delta vari­ant, which spreads more than twice as eas­i­ly from one per­son to anoth­er com­pared to ear­li­er strains, has surged to become the pre­dom­i­nant vari­ant in Wash­ing­ton. Giv­en this, the high mix­ing of vac­ci­nat­ed and unvac­ci­nat­ed peo­ple in schools, and the fact that vac­cines are not avail­able to chil­dren younger than 12, uni­ver­sal mask­ing is required in all Wash­ing­ton state K‑12 schools.

To pro­tect those who have not been vac­ci­nat­ed and reduce risk of trans­mis­sion, pub­lic and pri­vate K‑12 schools must use the fol­low­ing lay­ered pre­ven­tion strategies:

  • All school per­son­nel, vol­un­teers, vis­i­tors and stu­dents must wear cloth face cov­er­ings or masks regard­less of vac­ci­na­tion sta­tus when indoors and on school buses.
  • Schools should main­tain at 3 feet of phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing between stu­dents in class­room set­tings, to the degree pos­si­ble and rea­son­able, that allows for full-time, in-per­son learn­ing for all students.
  • Schools must have good ven­ti­la­tion and indoor air qual­i­ty, clean­ing and dis­in­fect­ing pro­ce­dures, and con­tin­ue to encour­age fre­quent hand­wash­ing and good res­pi­ra­to­ry etiquette.
  • Stu­dents and school employ­ees who have symp­toms of COVID-19 or the flu should stay home and seek med­ical atten­tion, which may include COVID-19 testing.
  • Schools must have plans in place to quick­ly respond to COVID-19 cas­es among stu­dents and staff.

Quar­an­tine pro­to­cols have been updat­ed to lim­it stu­dent exclu­sion from the class­room. Stu­dents do not have to quar­an­tine if symp­tom free and: they were at least three feet away from an infect­ed stu­dent and both stu­dents were wear­ing masks, the stu­dent is ful­ly vac­ci­nat­ed, or if the stu­dent had a con­firmed case of COVID-19 with­in the past three months.

“The goal of these lay­ered pre­ven­tion strate­gies is to pro­tect peo­ple who are not ful­ly vac­ci­nat­ed, includ­ing stu­dents, staff, and their fam­i­lies from COVID-19 infec­tions,” said Deputy Sec­re­tary Lacy Fehren­bach. “Out­breaks can and have occurred in K‑12 schools. These mea­sures lim­it trans­mis­sion in schools which will min­i­mize the dis­rup­tions of quar­an­tines and class­room or school clo­sures caused by out­breaks. It is impor­tant we do every­thing we can to keep our class­rooms safe, stu­dents and staff healthy, and schools open.”

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Categories: Health & Wellness, Safety

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