It’s too early for school boards to lift mask mandates, but they need to plan for it, former FDA commissioner Gottlieb says

Ky. Health News map, based on Ky. Dept. for Public Health data Jan. 15-21. Click on it to enlarge.

Pediatrician Horace Hambrick attended the Jan.
10 meeting of the Scott County school board
to ask it to keep a mask mandate, which it did.

(Georgetown News-Graphic photo by James Scogin)

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

As Kentucky schools wrestle with demands by some parents to lift mask mandates, a physician who headed the Food and Drug Administration for Donald Trump says it’s too early to do that.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb said on CBS‘s “Face the Nation” Sunday that masks are central to school’s plans for preventing spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant, so they should still be required as long as infection levels remain high.

But Gottlieb said schools should decide now at what point they are going to lift their mask mandates. “Setting an end point and sticking to it . . . is very prudent,” he said.
Gottlieb didn’t suggest a specific level for lifting mask mandates, but said it should be higher than the seven-day average of 10 daily cases per 100,000 residents that federal officials consider a high level of transmission. He said schools could use a higher benchmark to “try to preserve as much of that environment for learning as you can.”
Even under a very expansive definition of Gottlieb’s recommendation, or state officials’ higher definition, every Kentucky county has a way to go to reach a safe level. Every county has an infection level above 50 per 100,000, almost all are above 100, most are above 200 (the average is 237) and 11 are above 300.

Those counties and their rates, as of Friday, are Carroll, 391; Henderson, 389.3; Harrison, 332.1; Warren, 331.6; Spencer, 330.7; Daviess, 329.5; Henry, 319.8; Muhlenberg, 319.6; Powell, 319; Shelby, 312.1; and Fayette, 303. Kentucky officials say a rate above 25 is high, calling for mask mandates.

Children under 5 probably won’t be able to get a Covid-19 vaccine “at least until late March,” as Pfizer Inc. extends the clinical trial of its vaccine in that age group, said Gottlieb, a Pfizer board member.
Fewer than 20 percent of Kentucky children aged 5 to 11, and fewer than half aged 12 to 17, have received even one dose of Covid-19 vaccine. Two doses plus a booster are needed for real immunity from the Omicron variant, studies have shown.

In recent weeks, more than a fourth of new coronavirus cases in Kentucky have been among people 18 and younger. Getting infected probably provides “as good if not better” immunity against a particular variant as a vaccine does, but “vaccines provide the broadest possible immunity,” Gottlieb said. “The primary utility of the vaccines is protection against severe disease and hospitalization.”

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