Boulder County Board of Health on Monday unanimously approved the decision to mandate masks for all students and staff members in all schools or at child care facilities regardless of their vaccination status.
The order will take effect Tuesday.
“Now we’ve got fall, we’ve got more time indoors, and we have less transmission control going on so there’s just a lot of factors,” Gregg Thomas, the board of health president. said Monday night. “We’re in a race against Delta or whatever comes after Delta and it’s just unfortunate.”
The board had a virtual meeting Monday evening to update its public health order, which requires that everyone 2 years or older in school buildings and child care facilities wear masks. The mandate also requires that schools enforce quarantine and isolation protocols when someone tests positive for the virus and participate in contact tracing.
The decision comes after both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all students and staff members, regardless of vaccination status, mask up while indoors.
During the meeting, Lexi Nolen, deputy director for Boulder County Public Health, showed a graph that compared COVID-19 rates for people ages zero to 19 years old from last summer to this summer. Last summer, masks were still mandated for anyone ages 2 and older while indoors.
Children ages 6 to 11 years old, which is part of the category that is ineligible for the vaccination, had a rate of about 20 cases per seven days Aug. 5, 2020. This summer, there were about 80 cases per seven days for kids in the same age group Aug. 5.
“What this graph is suggesting is that the Delta variant is behaving very differently than what we saw last year with the wild-type strain, and the Alpha strain, and that masking may be contributing significantly to this,” she said. Not having masks “may be contributing significantly to the transmission.”
Before the meeting, people representing both the St. Vrain Valley and Boulder Valley school districts protested against the mandate outside the BCPH building.
Elsy Wilkins said she has friends with kids at the Boulder Valley School District. She is against masks because she does not believe there is any proof they stem the spread of the virus, she said.
“I am very much against children having to wear masks,” she said. “It’s physically and mentally unhealthy. It dehumanizes the children.”
Allison Stransky, whose children attend St. Vrain Valley School District, said she wants the county to give parents the right to choose.
“Our school did a great job keeping kids safe (last year) and doing what they could,” she said. “We know it’s one of those things that’s going to pass around, but I think we’re choosing to send our kids to school because that’s the priority right now.”
Boulder County residents were divided during the public input portion of the meeting Monday. About 25 people spoke.
During the meeting, Ben Bishops of Longmont, said everyone who who wants to be vaccinated or wear a mask is doing that.
“Please allow personal freedoms to be as free as they can possibly be,” he said.
Some parents disagreed and said not everyone who wants to be vaccinated is eligible because kids ages 5 to 11 years old are still ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccination.
Laura Witt, a Longmont resident, said she wants to see masks mandated in schools to protect her two 11-year-old twins who cannot get vaccinated.
“We feel very strongly that for them to safely return to school we need them masked,” she said. “My children were both held back because they were born early and had some major delays and going into COVID, they were already a little behind, but the fact is they still cannot legally get vaccinated yet.”
Joe Mehsling, director Twin Peaks Charter Academy, said he still has a lot of questions he wants answered.
“Do you really expect me as a leader of a school and my leadership team to deny access to children in a public school with their needs and their accommodations if parents choose not to mask their children?” he asked. “We are a public school.”
After the meeting Monday, St. Vrain Valley Superintendent Don Haddad sent a letter to staff members and families outlining the new mask requirement, as well as the option for families to request a mask exemption “if their student has any medical reasons that would make wearing a mask difficult or harmful.” To request an exemption, families are asked to fill out a form at tinyurl.com/wmth2kh3.
The letter notes the mask requirements should result in a “significant decrease” in classroom quarantines. Students will not need to quarantine after a “routine” classroom exposure, with the exception of those with a mask exemption, according to the letter.
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