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Gov. Andy Beshear on Monday sent a clear message to schools on when Kentucky students should wear masks in the fall, though he stopped short of issuing an order.
Beshear said all unvaccinated students and adults should wear masks in classrooms and other indoor school settings. He said schools should require all students under the age of 12 to wear masks in classrooms. Those students are not yet eligible for vaccines.
School districts wishing to optimize safety and minimize risks of educational and athletic, disruptions should require all students and all adults to wear a mask while in the classroom and other indoor settings, Beshear said.
“There’s only one right answer that protects the kids,” Beshear.
Beshear said a mandate is “not off the table.” Be he said he thought school districts would do the right thing before that was necessary.
Beshear said the recommendations were one way to keep kids in classrooms this school year.
A few hours before Education Commissioner Jason Glass was set to appear Monday with Beshear to discuss school operations and COVID-19, he told school superintendents that he was not aware of any orders or mandates that will be handed down.
Parents and school staffs had been speculating whether Beshear would mandate that students in Kentucky schools have to wear masks in the classroom. But at a 4 p.m. news conference with Beshear, Glass, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman and Kentucky Board of Education Chair Lu Young, Beshear only made the strong recommendations.
“Let me be clear – at this time I am not aware of any orders or mandates that will be handed down from the governor and (similarly) there are no plans for regulations or directives coming from the KBE or from Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) relating to COVID-19 mitigation requirements for the coming school year,” Glass said in his regular email message to superintendents.”
“While we all have seen conditions change over the course of our management of this pandemic – and there may need to be such orders in the future – presently decisions on how your schools will operate this fall remain local decisions. The only exception is masking on school buses, which is required under a Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention order,” he said.
Across Kentucky, the more contagious Delta variant continues to drive a rise in cases and the statewide positivity rate, which hovered near 8% on Monday, the highest rate since late February. Cases have been increasing now for four consecutive weeks after more than two months of decline.
Last week, Beshear and Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack recommended that people at risk of severe coronavirus infection due to pre-exsiting health conditions, as well as those who work in high-risk environments, such as retail and hospitality jobs, wear a mask again in indoor public settings because of escalating community spread.
Glass said “in the strongest possible terms” he recommends all public and private schools in the Commonwealth of Kentucky follow the latest CDC recommendations and Kentucky Department for Public Health guidance for COVID-19 prevention in schools.
The recommended school guidance includes the following:
Prioritize in-person learning, encourage and promote vaccination.
Masks should be worn by all people age 2 and older who are not vaccinated when physical distancing cannot be maintained. Presently this would include everyone between the ages of 2 and 12. There should be at least 3 feet of physical distance between students in indoor spaces.
Continue screening, testing, handwashing, respiratory etiquette, staying at home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection efforts.
In addition to guidance from federal and state officials, Glass said the American Academy of Pediatrics also issued guidance that goes even further on masking, recommending that all persons older than 2 years and all school staff should wear masks at school because a significant portion of the school population is not eligible for vaccination and there are no systems to track who is vaccinated and who is not,
The Department of Public Health guidance says that schools should “consider universal use of masks for all persons” based on several community factors.
“I understand that some would like to believe COVID-19 is no longer a threat,” Glass said in the email. “While these perspectives may be loud, they will have no impact on my recommendation to you on following the CDC and DPH guidance”.
“I understand that we are all weary of COVID-19 mitigation efforts, and that we have enjoyed some semblance of normalcy these past few weeks of summer,” he said. “But we cannot ignore that conditions have shifted again and for the worse. With vaccinations among adults stalling, the delta variant is a much more transmissible version of the COVID-19 virus and transmission levels in our communities are on a troubling rise. Because of this reality, you have a responsibility to take the steps necessary to get your schools open safely for operations this fall.”