Students in all grades in Monongalia County schools will be required to wear a mask while indoors this year – even if they are fully vaccinated.
Masks won’t be required during recess or for students participating in sports, said Superintendent Eddie Campbell Jr., who made the announcement during Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.
Campbell said the decision was made at the recommendation of county health officer Dr. Lee B. Smith.
The health officer, who wasn’t able to attend the meeting, told Campbell earlier that the surge of positive Delta variant cases across the U.S. and West Virginia – hospitalizing children in many cases nationwide – made the decision for him.
“We are the same trajectory we experienced last year,” Campbell said, reading from Smith’s most recent email to him.
Smith, he said, also consulted the original Harvard metric map – rather than the revamped one used the state Department of Health and Human Resources which tracks the contagion – for the call.
West Virginia is inching back in to the red on that map – and new numbers from the DHHR this week agree.
As it turns out, the coronavirus is again jumping to the head of the class in the Mountain State, with more than 4,000 new cases reported Monday.
That’s in contrast to the 882 noted a month to the day in July.
Gov. Jim Justice on Monday also told reporters he wasn’t to going enact a statewide mandate – even as he worried about the new surge, as classrooms open and football games commence.
“Do you not think this thing is not going to rear its ugly head even more so than it is now?” he said.
“You’re taking one hell of a risk if you aren’t vaccinated.”
State Schools Superintendent Clayton Burch last week he was leaving the decision to mask, or not, with local school boards.
That’s why a dozen parents, most with younger children in kindergarten and elementary school, came out to Tuesday’s meeting.
A vaccine has yet to be developed for children under the age of 12.
As per BOE protocol, all spoke at the start of the meeting before Campbell made the announcement, and all but one pleaded with the district to call for masking.
That’s because Campbell, after earlier consulting with Smith, had lifted the mask mandate for this year. The first day of school in Mon is Aug. 24.
Also, the superintendent said, no positive cases were reported among the 2,000 students across the district who participated in learning enrichment camps this summer which didn’t require masks to be worn.
Still, he and Smith said, a surge is a surge.
The health officer, though, did say the mandate could be reconsidered if a vaccine for the younger children becomes available.
Many of the parents who spoke cited the effectiveness of masking – while also referencing an open letter for the same that went out Tuesday to the state Department of Education.
WVU Medicine, Children’s, was the among the collective signatures from health organizations on the letter, which cited mask guidance protocols from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meanwhile, Paul Holcomb, a WVU neurosurgeon and biomedical engineer with two children in district schools, wasn’t speaking in scientific terms when he implored the BOE for the mandate.
Like most of the other parents, he was worried about Delta running roughshod through schools – with neither mask mandate nor proven vaccine in place.
“We must not wait until everything’s on fire,” he said, “before wondering if we have the water to put it out.”