CDC recommends universal masking in schools, and in high-transmission areas indoors; school boards start making decisions

State Dept. for Public Health map, relabeled by Ky. Health News; to enlarge, click on it.

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Federal officials offered new guidance Tuesday recommending that everyone in schools wear masks, even those who have been vaccinated; and that people living in areas with widespread transmission of the coronavirus wear masks indoors when away from home.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  Director Rochelle Walensky said at a news conference that the new guidance was prompted by new research that found vaccinated people who contract the much more contagious Delta variant of the virus can spread it to others. “This new science is worrisome,” she said.

The guidance comes as the virus surge in Kentucky increased and school boards wrestled with the contentious masking issue — and just one day after Gov. Andy Beshear announced the state’s recommendations for in-school masking, which did not go as far as the CDC now has.
The state recommended that unvaccinated students and staff wear masks in schools, and schools that want to “optimize safety” should require everyone to mask up.
Beshear’s guidance followed CDC recommendations earlier this month that said fully vaccinated people did not need to wear mask in schools. Not long after that announcement, the American Academy of Pediatrics called for everyone older than 2 to wear a mask, regardless of their vaccination status.
A spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, Toni Konz Tatman, said the agency would review the CDC’s latest guidance “in consultation with our partners at the Kentucky Department for Public Health, and will share it with our districts and families.”
Mask requirements in Kentucky schools vary

On Monday, Lexington-Fayette County Public Health Commissioner Kraig Humbaugh recommended universal masking for staff and students in schools that have students under 12, because they are not yet eligible for vaccinations, Valarie Honeycutt Spears reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. 

Honeycutt Spears reports that 17 people signed up to speak at the county school board meeting Monday, mostly to oppose mask wearing and other restrictions in schools. The school board met with the health department Tuesday to discuss plans for the fall, WKYT-TV reports.

Jefferson County Public Schools Supt. Marty Pollio said he would recommend to his board Tuesday that it require universal masking, and WLKY-TV reported Monday that four of the seven members agree with him. Tuesday night, the boar voted unanimously to accept his recommendation.
The board of Frankfort Independent Schools, meeting Monday, accepted Supt. Houston Barber’s recommendation to begin the school year with universal masking, Linda Younkin of The State Journal reports. Barber said he would revisit the issue every two weeks, with decisions based on data.
Last week, Boone County Schools said it would not mandate masks for students and staff, though they are recommended regardless of vaccination status. The school board said it reserved the right to change its mind based on the levels of infection in the school and community, Fox19 Now reports.
The Bowling Green Independent Schools and the surounding Warren County Pubic Schools will also not require masks for students, Aaron Mudd reports for the Bowling Green Daily News. Logan County Schools say likewise, though the county has a high infection rate and is only 40% vaccinated.
Statewide, just over half of Kentucky’s population has received at least one dose of a vaccine. Vaccinations are picking up, rising to 7,579 per day over the last seven days. That’s a 28% increase from the previous week, according to CDC data processed by The Washington Post.
Daily numbers keep rising
Vaccinations aren’t rising as fast as cases of the virus. Kentucky reported 1,273 new cases Tuesday, the biggest daily number since Feb. 23, when the winter surge was winding down. That raised the seven-day average to 918, the highest since March 5. The positive-test rate is 8.11%, the highest since Feb. 5.
Kentucky hospitals reported 520 Covid-19 patients, the most since March 12; 175 are in intensive care and 83 of those are on mechanical ventilation.
The number of counties in Kentucky with transmission rates considered critical has been increasing daily; 28 of the 120 counties are in the “red zone,” for counties with more than 25 daily cases per 100,000 residents over the last seven days.
Vaccines still offer much protection
While vaccinated people can get infected and spread the virus to others, many more infections are in unvaccinated people, Walensky said.
“The highest spread of cases and severe outcomes is happening in places with low vaccination rates and among unvaccinated people,” she said, making it more important than ever for people to get vaccinated.
The CDC eased masking rules in May, saying fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear a mask in most settings. But the  new guidance says in areas of high transmission, fully vaccinated people do need to mask up.
Walensky noted that the Delta variant only represented 1% of cases in May, but now represents at least 83% of them. The guidance issued in May was also made at a time when cases were dropping and more people were getting vaccinated.

The CDC’s latest guidance also recommends that community leaders encourage vaccination and mask-wearing to prevent further outbreaks in areas of substantial and high transmission.

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