The Barrow County School System announced Wednesday, Aug. 18, that it will impose temporary mask mandates for schools where at least 1% of its population tests positive for COVID-19 amid spiking coronavirus levels around the county and increased close-contact quarantines in the schools.
Under the changes that took effect starting Thursday, Aug. 19, all staff and students will be required to temporarily wear masks indoors at school and on school buses for those schools at or above the 1% threshold. The mandate will be rescinded once the schools falls below 1% for five consecutive school days, according to a news release.
As of Thursday, a mask mandate was in effect at Apalachee High, Russell Middle and Winder Elementary schools.
The system-wide infection rate for students was 0.65% under the latest available data published by the district on Tuesday, Aug. 17.
A school district spokesperson said officials will review the case data each morning from the previous day and notify by principals by or around noon if the threshold has been reached and coordinate communications to students and families from there.
The district is providing weekly case total updates for the previous week every Tuesday morning on its website. A list of schools with mask mandates in effect will be added to that information.
The district also announced Wednesday stricter enforcement of virus-spread mitigation measures it introduced in schools last year, including:
•Hallways will use structured and one-way crowd flow.
•Desks and seating areas will be arranged to maximize space between students.
•Students will remain in smaller cohorts to limit mixing.
•Masks are required in school clinics.
•Seating charts will be used in all classrooms and cafeterias and on buses.
•There will be no large indoor gatherings that bring together students and staff not normally in contact with one another.
•Virtual events, rather than face-to-face, will be used as much as possible.
Only “essential” visitors will be allowed in buildings, officials said, including parents (those who can’t meet virtually), staff, contracted workers providing services to students and mentors with parent permission. Those visitors will be expected to wear a mask while in the buildings, officials said.
Staff who are vaccinated but identified as a close contact should wear a mask for 10 days, and students will eat all meals in classrooms or classes will rotate through cafeterias in smaller groups, according to the release.
There will be no restrictions on any outdoor events that have voluntary attendance, officials said.
COVID-19 infection levels in Barrow County have spiked to more than 40 new daily cases on a seven-day average, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health, and area hospitalizations have also been steadily rising. Health officials have projected a peak in the current spike around mid-September. School district officials said they have encouraged schools for now to delay to and/or schedule indoor gatherings for October.
The school district’s latest announcement comes as the CDC has recommended universal indoor masking in K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. But for now, BCSS is forgoing universal mask mandates while encouraging mask-wearing and hygiene and stressing that students stay home if they’re feeling ill.
“Your actions may very well be the deciding factor regarding whether we avoid a system-wide masking mandate and/or have to shut a school or schools down for a period of time,” officials said.