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Important Information about Masking

Important Information about Masking
Posted on 12/12/2021
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Dear School Community

On Friday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the Acting Secretary of Health’s school masking order. Therefore, the issue of masking now reverts to the District’s health and safety plan. This plan was last modified in August of 2021. As our operative document for other mitigation strategies already in place, we continue to review and monitor it consistently. The health and safety plan implements masking in a tiered fashion and has specific and measurable step-down standards. To summarize the tier system, please click here. It is based on the transmission rate of Covid-19 in Delaware County. Currently, the transmission rate is high, so the District will continue to require masking in all district buildings when our community is in “substantial” or “high” status for rate of transmission. We may revise this requirement should the community move to a “moderate” or “low” rate of transmission. Per the federal mandate, masks are required for students riding to and from school and/or on school-based activities on district buses.

 

Important Considerations

Realizing that masking is a controversial and polarizing subject, we can agree that there are important factors to consider in continuing to require them.

  • The District Must Contact Trace and Quarantine Positive Cases–Although the vast majority of our students have not experienced severe illness from the virus, the elimination of the statewide PreK-12 school mask requirement does not change how schools by law must respond to COVID-19 cases, address outbreaks, or report data to the PA Department of Health (DOH). As a result, the significant increase in transmission levels our county is currently experiencing, coupled with any decision to eliminate masks, could significantly undermine our goal of in-person learning for all. For example, the close contact definition excludes students who were within three to six feet of an infected student if both the infected student and exposed student(s) correctly and consistently wore well-fitting masks the entire time. Without masks, the number of “close contacts” would increase exponentially, and thus so would the number of students needing to quarantine. Additionally, we also have to factor that we are required to close a school when 5% of its population of students/staff are confirmed cases within a 14-day window. Ultimately, although I believe that learning while wearing a mask isn’t optimal, it is undoubtedly better than learning via Zoom as a result of having to quarantine or close. The guidance on how schools should respond to positive cases can be found by clicking here. 
  • Transmission Rates Have Significantly Increased and the District Only Has Access to County-Level DataMasking is one of the layered strategies that has helped us achieve in-person learning for the last four months, despite seeing county cases jump from approximately 100 per 100K in early September to 251 per 100K today. Our schools have also seen cases increase since the Thanksgiving Holiday (approximately 54 cases since November 29th), and this considers only the cases that we detect and those brought to our attention. We believe when the DelCo Health Department begins operation in January, we will have access to data specific to our attendance boundaries for both infections and vaccinations. This data will allow us to make health decisions like those associated with relaxing masking more safely and efficiently. 
  • Masking is Required for the Test-to-Stay Program–We continue to test students who are asymptomatic close contacts and keep them in school for in-person learning. Just this week, we tested 218 students. In order to maintain this program, the Department of Health states: “in order to safely participate in test-to-stay, schools should have a universal masking policy in place. This means that all students, staff, or visitors should wear a face covering when indoors on school grounds.”
  • The Holiday Season Is Not the Time to Relax Health Mitigation Strategies–As we are experiencing after Thanksgiving, the holiday season brings more people together for parties, family gatherings, and other activities. Schools are already one of the few places where mass gatherings inside classrooms and buildings occur every day. When factoring increased indoor social gatherings with already large groups of students gathering in schools, it seems counterintuitive to reduce any mitigation strategies, including masking at this time. It’s our hope that by mid-January when community members go back to normal routines, we will see a decrease in transmission rate that will allow us to make changes. 
  • Our Youngest Students Are Still Not Considered Fully Vaccinated–On Thursday, we hosted a vaccination clinic that provided second doses for approximately 400 students and first doses for 100 students. Since an individual is considered “fully vaccinated” when 2 or more weeks have passed after the receipt of the second dose in a 2-dose vaccine series, our youngest students still need a period of time of protection before we consider the reduction of masking. 

I have seen the negative impacts of this pandemic personally and professionally, and like you I am frustrated and tired. Most dishearteningly, I have seen our students bear the weight of its negative impacts. It’s my hope that things will start to change significantly after the holidays. However, regardless of our feelings, we have to remain steadfast in keeping our students in school. Wearing masks is a sacrifice we have to make for a few more weeks or perhaps even months to keep our students safe and in school for in-person learning.

 

Sincerely,
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Dr. Marc Bertrando, Superintendent

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