Schools still say 'no masks' amid new CDC guidelines

Districts also not requiring vaccination records  

Despite new recommendations from the CDC, several Mecosta and Osceola county superintendents plan to keep in place their policies of choice of masking. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Despite new recommendations from the CDC, several Mecosta and Osceola county superintendents plan to keep in place their policies of choice of masking. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

As Osceola and Mecosta county schools near the start of a new year, superintendents are sticking to their policies of making masking a choice for staff and students.

Amid reports of new cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new recommendations this week for masking in an effort to encouraging mitigating spread.

There are currently no recorded cases of the Delta variant in Mecosta or Osceola counties. Health experts predict the number of breakthrough infections will rise, but they say these cases also illustrate the strength of the vaccines, by protecting most people against grave illness.

Reed City, Big Rapids, Morley Stanwood, and Chippewa Hills school districts have each announced policies that give parents and students the choice of masking in school. Districts are also not requiring vaccination records or compulsory testing.

The CDC’s new recommendations express that fully vaccinated or not, people who live where COVID-19 transmission is classified as substantial or high should wear masks when they are indoors in public places.

The recommendations also called for universal mask-wearing in K-12 schools, where masks should be work by teachers, other staff members, students, and visitors. The new recommendations apply to anyone over the age of two.

Despite these new recommendations from the CDC, several area superintendents plan to keep in place their policies of choice of masking.

Big Rapids Superintendent Tim Haist said the administration is dedicated to maintaining safety, and will continue to work with the area health departments to monitor illness cases and the level of threat the Delta variant may pose.

“We’re always looking at maintaining a safe and healthy environment for our students and staff,” Haist said. “We’re always looking at recommendations that we receive and communicating with the health department and different groups to make sure we’re keeping everyone as healthy as possible.

“You’re always going to have people that are on both sides of an issue like this, and there are people that definitely want the choice in our area to be vaccinated or wear masks and others who want regulations to stay,” he added. “Right now our plan is to maintain that choice for students and staff, and continue monitoring spread and recommend that those who haven’t been fully vaccinated wear a mask indoors, but that won’t be a requirement.”

By the end of July, the Delta variant was the cause of more than 80% of new U.S. COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC.

Chippewa Hills Superintendent Bob Grover said their administration plans to keep an eye on case numbers in the area and make necessary changes if a high threat risk is posed.

“We’ll continue to monitor our area and the impact that the variant is having on it and continue working with the health department,” Grover said. “As of right now, our area is still low in cases of the variant, so we aren’t in an area that the CDC is concerned about right now.”

“We have to remember that those recommendations are for areas that are seeing higher case rates, but should that become true for our area, we can see if we can make some different decisions,” he added. “For right now, we’re going to stick with our policy we put out regarding masking and testing and make sure we keep monitoring.”

Another question the CDC is still learning about is how the Delta affects the body. There have been reports of symptoms that are different than those associated with the original COVID-19 strain. Reportedly, cough and loss of smell are less common.

Morley Stanwood Superintendent Roger Cole said the administration will be waiting to see how the CDC recommendations impact the state’s regulations and will make decisions based on that if necessary.

“At this point, we’re waiting to see how the CDC information filters down to the state and how that will filter down to what decisions we make moving forward,” Cole said. “I think the concern will become significant if the local community sees a significant spike, like when we saw a spike with Ferris students moving onto campus. We’re seeing really low numbers, so right now we are not concerned but will continue to watch for cases.”

“All the phone calls that I get are from parents not wanting their kids to wear a mask in schools,” he added. “My answer to them is as long as it’s feasible for us to maintain that as a choice for students and staff, we will do that.”

Following an area superintendent meeting July 29, Cole said many of them agree on the COVID-19 variant threat being low and continuing to monitor that, and that new ideas for health and safety are continuing to land on the table like health screenings.

“The biggest thing is that the health department is saying that we need to report cases to them and cooperate with contact tracing efforts,” Cole said. “A lot of it is similar to last year, but there were some new discussions on what quarantine will look like for new cases this year, and making sure people are aware of potential exposures and what to look out for.”

“Quarantine and exposure time are apparently shorter it seems like for people who are masking, but we still have a lot more to figure out and see how it’ll impact our districts,” he added.

Cole said the superintendents also discussed the possibility of implementation of health screening tests for students and staff to monitor spread and illness.

“That takes about 15 seconds to do, it does help with making people more aware on a daily or weekly basis of their own health and wellness,” he said. “I think it’s something that we all agreed would be an easy thing to put in place that would be helpful and simple, so there may be plans for that moving forward in some districts.”

“Really, we’re just hoping that we can get back to normal and keep an eye on things as we go, and each of us as superintendents and district administrations is dedicated to making sure our kids and staff are safe.”