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CDC recommends universal mask-wearing in schools

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 6:47 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 27, 2021 at 10:30 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reversing course Tuesday when it comes to mask-wearing in schools.

Now everyone, regardless of vaccination status, is urged to wear one in the classroom.

On July 9, the CDC recommended masks be worn by students and staff ages two and older who are not vaccinated. However, Tuesday the agency changed its tune.

“CDC recommends everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask indoors, including teachers, staff, students and visitors - regardless of vaccination status,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.

This change is due to the increase in new COVID-19 cases tied to the delta variant.

“In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the Delta variants and protect others,” Walensky said. “This includes schools.”

At this time, no word has been given by the VDH on whether it will adopt the CDC’s new recommendations in its own state guidance. The Richmond-Henrico Health District says both localities are only in moderate rates of transmission.

When it comes to the delta variant in Virginia and children, the state is seeing higher numbers. On Friday, VDH reported 48 cases from infants to adults 19 years old.

On July 23, VDH reported 48 cases of COVID-19's delta variant among people ages 0-19.
On July 23, VDH reported 48 cases of COVID-19's delta variant among people ages 0-19.(VDH)

“Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies in place,” Walensky said.

It’s why the CDC is recommending universal indoor masking for students and staff at school.

The announcement comes after the Spotsylvania County School Board voted 6-1 Monday night recommending masks for students at all grade levels but allowing parents to send in opt-out forms.

After more than a year of living with the pandemic, some people are doubtful of the new mask recommendations to be able to slow the spread of the COVID-19 and its variants.

“People are going to overreact to it and think that ‘Big Brother’ is trying to force something on them,” William Kuykendall said.

“I feel like it should be a personal choice if you have the vaccine,” said Rachel Simmons. “I listened to it last year, I always wore my mask wherever I went, but I think people are just tired of COVID in itself.”

Meanwhile, a parent sent NBC12 an email from Henrico County Public Schools stating it strongly encourages mask-wearing, especially for those students under 12 who are not yet able to be vaccinated.

“While we encourage mask-wearing for those not fully vaccinated, we respect that mask-wearing is currently an individual’s choice,” the letter said. “As a reminder, Virginia’s Public Health Order expired Sunday, July 25. HCPS continues to work with our Health Department partners to monitor community conditions and will, as previously shared, make changes to specific school or division COVID-19 prevention plans accordingly.”

Powhatan County Public Schools also announced Tuesday its plan for optional mask-wearing.

“Masks will be optional for students and staff,” the email by Superintendent Eric Jones said. “Those that wish to wear masks indoors may do so. We encourage those who are not vaccinated to strongly consider wearing a mask indoors when social distancing cannot be met.”

Meanwhile, Hopewell Schools is requiring all staff and students to wear masks, regardless of a COVID-19 vaccine. Richmond Schools will have the same requirement come the first day of school.

It’s a measure that Ashley Barnes, a father of three RPS students, is happy to see if it means his children don’t have to endure virtual learning.

“I’m definitely with that because they cannot be home again,” Barnes said. “My youngest son is in elementary school, and he definitely took a step back because he wasn’t in a regular classroom. So, if that’s what it takes to get kids back in the classroom - I’m all for it.”

The CDC recommendation comes after Governor Ralph Northam announced last week he would leave the decision up to each health district and school system.

“As always, we will thoroughly review these recommendations when they are released,” said spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky. “The Governor has taken a nuanced and data-driven approach throughout this pandemic—which is why Virginia has among the nation’s lowest total COVID-19 cases and death rates.”

Yarmosky added the only way to end the pandemic is for everyone to get vaccinated.

“I took it seriously when a close friend of mine was in the hospital and I thought he was going to die,” Barnes said. “I think for some people it has to be that close to home, and believe it or not, for some people it has to hit that close to home.”

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