Divide continues over mandating masks inside local schools

Back to School

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) – A new surge of coronavirus is showing no signs of slowing down. New numbers from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) show nearly 1,300 new positive cases on Monday. The surge of infections raises new concerns as children head back to school.

Officials across the country remain split on whether or not to mandate masks in classrooms. Locally, most school districts are requiring masks indoors; however, masks remain optional in a few districts. Health officials strongly encourage those school systems to mask up as coronavirus cases tick up.

According to Dr. Noelle Bissell, Director of the New River Health District, “It certainly is not harmful and it does help. “The schools have all worked really hard on their ventilation and their air exchanges and their filtering. Masking definitely helps when we’re indoors in those close contact spaces.”

According to the latest information from VDH, 114,692 people 19 years old and younger have tested positive for the highly infectious virus. Of those, at least 35,572 are unable to get the vaccine because they are under the age of 12.

“I think it’s a very safe assumption to say that about 20 percent of our total cases on any given day are going to be in our pediatric population,” Dr. Bissell said.

In addition to masking, Dr. Bissell says another layer of protection for the very vulnerable population is making sure those around them get vaccinated.

“Whether it’s older siblings, whether it’s parents, whether it’s grandparents, whether it’s caregivers, teachers…because again, we do know that the bulk of transmission is occurring in the household setting because people generally have very close contact and they aren’t masking in that situation,” said Dr. Bissell.

Gov. Ralph Northam isn’t mandating universal masking but claims a new law does require schools to follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Special school board meetings are being called in districts where masking is currently optional.

On Monday, Aug. 9, a spokesperson for Patrick County Public Schools said the school board held a special meeting where they voted to use the same verbiage as the CDC and universally “recommend” masks, not “mandate” masks.

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