OHIO VALLEY — As summer is winding down and the school year is about to begin, Meigs County Health Department Health Commissioner Marc Barr explained how possible COVID-19 exposure in the school setting could impact local students this year, while recommending universal masking for schools.
During Tuesday evening’s monthly Board of Health meeting, Barr explained that in meetings with the local superintendents in recent weeks he informed the district that the health department would be recommending the schools follow the CDC recommendations for the upcoming start of the school year.
The CDC states, “CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place.”
Barr explained that universal masking would help to greatly limit the need to quarantine large groups of students under the quarantine guidelines set by the Ohio Department of Health.
A flow chart from ODH helps to determine if a individual should be quarantined or what precautions should be taken following exposure.
Barr explained that quarantine would not be necessary for students and adults possibly exposed to COVID-19 in a school setting, regardless of vaccination status, if all individuals are masked and physical distancing is maximized (at least three feet between desks). In that case, all individuals can remain in the normal classroom setting and continue to participate in extra curricular activities as long as they do not experience symptoms.
If universal masking and distancing are not practiced, then, the next question is if the person exposed has been vaccinated.
If the answer is “yes” on being vaccinated, the exposed person may remain in the normal in-person classroom setting and continue to participate in activities. The person should wear a mask indoors, as much as possible, for either 14 days or until they receive a negative test three to five days after exposure.
If the answer is “no” on being vaccinated and the person has been wearing a mask consistently, then they would follow the same procedure as the vaccinated individual.
If the answer is “no” on being vaccinated and the person has not been wearing a mask consistently then they must follow the outlined quarantine procedures. The exposed individual should not attend in person school or any extracurricular activities. They can return to normal activities after seven days if they have a negative test at least five days after exposure.
In West Virginia, schools will follow a similar procedure with vaccinated and masked students not requiring quarantine according to statements by Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch during a news conference last week.
Of specific concern is the under 12 population who is not yet eligible to be vaccinated, explained Barr.
As of Wednesday, in Meigs County 6.47 percent (345 people) of the 0-19 age population had received at least one does of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 4.72 percent (252 people) of the 0-19 population fully vaccinated.
In Gallia County, 6.66 percent (502 people) of the 0-19 age group population had received at least one vaccine, with 5.31 percent (400 people) of the 0-19 population fully vaccinated.
In Mason County, the Department of Health and Human Resources reports that 15 percent of the counties age 12-15 population are at least partially vaccinated, with 27.4 percent of 16-20 year olds vaccinated. In the 12-15 age group, 8.2 percent are fully vaccinated, with 21.6 percent of 16-20 year olds fully vaccinated.
As of Tuesday, Eastern Local Schools has announced that masks are “recommended but not required” , while Southern Local Schools have announced that “Masks are not required at school, but are recommended.” The Meigs Local Board of Education was to meet on Wednesday evening for a regular board meeting where the matter may be decided on.
In Gallia County, Gallipolis City Schools has made masks optional, but “highly recommended” in the classroom. Gallia County Local School’s reopening plan states, “The Gallia Co. Local Schools will not require masks to be worn by students or staff to begin the school year.”
The Mason County Board of Education recently stated that masks are “recommended, but not required” for the start of the school year.
Masks are required on buses for all schools per the CDC mandate for public transportation.
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Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.