As school systems evaluate mask requirements, health officials warn against ending mask policies

Coronavirus

ALABAMA – With the school year well underway, the majority of districts across north Alabama have now implemented mask requirements. But some are beginning to re-evaluate them.

Forty-four children were hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state and eight were on ventilators on September 13, according to the Alabama Hospital Association.

Dr. Scott James, who works with pediatricians at UAB says he has seen a sustained number of kids being treated for COVID-19 in the hospital.

“Day in and day out we’re caring for sick children that have been hospitalized with COVID-19, many of whom are in intensive care and are on ventilators. And I would say day in and day out that number has been in a sustained fashion higher than it has been at any point previous in the pandemic,” James stated.

Spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Public Health, Dr. Karen Landers says part of keeping people out of the hospital is reducing the spread of the virus. She says masks are part of that multi-prong approach to preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s really not a pick and choose,” she said. “For example, with other communicable diseases, we have specific strategies that need to be carried out in order to reduce the risk of persons transmitting diseases.”

There is no statewide mask requirement for schools. This means each school system can decide whether they will require them for students.

A handful of school systems have made masking optional. Tuscumbia City Schools, Hartselle City Schools, Marshall County Schools, Lauderdale County Schools, and Franklin County Schools started the school year that way.  Morgan County Schools has allowed their mask requirement to expire. 

Dekalb County Schools, Jackson County Schools (as of August 16), and Limestone County Schools require masks on buses, not for classroom instruction.

Many school districts in North Alabama are planning to evaluate their mask requirement in September including, Colbert County Schools, Sheffield City Schools, Albertville City Schools, Lawrence County Schools, and Boaz City Schools.

Arab City School, Muscle Shoals City Schools, and Fort Payne City Schools will evaluate their mask requirement on October 1.

Every county in North Alabama is experiencing high rates of community transmission, according to ADPH’s dashboard. Landers says now is not the time to end school masking requirements.

“We are not where we need to be to really, in my mind, put our children in harm’s way, and our teachers, and our staff members in school, they’ve already suffered enough. So, let’s try to do all we can to keep people safe,” Landers said.

Dr. Landers says a low community transmission rate would be five percent. The moving seven-day average for the state is currently 19.7 percent.

She says when making decisions about masking requirements, new case totals over the past two weeks and the community transmission rate should both be taken into account.

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