COVID-19

The Jackson County School System is strengthening its request that all faculty and students wear a mask when in-person school returns Aug. 12.

Although the system doesn't use the word "mandate" in its guidance to students and parents, the expectation is that students and teachers will wear a mask at certain times during the school day.

"The requests for staff and students to wear face coverings are in alignment with general expectations within our state and community," reads a memo from the system to parents.

The memo also says that there will be exceptions to its mask request.

"When students and staff are in commons areas, on buses, in hallways, and areas where they may be most at risk of spread, we think it is reasonable to ask all of us to respect the guidance provided by healthcare professionals. There will certainly be times throughout the day when students will not wear a mask."

The system is making mask-wearing mandatory at some of its individual school open house events for students and parents.

The issue of whether or not to require students wear a mask has become a hot debate as schools began reopen for a new school year. Recent studies suggest that younger children may not get as sick as some adults, but do spread the virus almost as much as older children and adults.

Last week, the CDC issued a report about a youth camp in North Georgia that had a high infection rate of COVID among campers and staff. The camp closed down in June when the outbreak became known.

While staff members were mandated to wear a mask at that camp, the campers were not. Of 344 campers and staff members tested, 76 were positive, the report said.

The fear among some in the medical field is that as schools reopen, they might become places where the virus is spread back into homes and then into the community at-large.

The county school system's memo acknowledges that risk as well.

"We are a public school district that serves a community, therefore we are impacted by and have a direct impact on the community we serve. Our goal is to do our part in protecting the health of our students and staff."

But some people have pushed back against mask mandates, including Gov. Brian Kemp who has encouraged mask-wearing, but has gone to court in a bid to prevent Georgia cities and counties from implementing their own mask rules.

The issue has become politicized as some Republicans have argued that mask mandates are an infringement on personal rights.

On the other hand, many Democrats have pushed for more mask mandates, especially in urban and high-density areas.

A number of major stores, including Walmart, Kroger and Home Depot, have instituted mask requirements in the last two weeks.

The lack of a unified voice on the issue has left local school systems to attempt to deal with the issue on their own in an effort to balance health and safety issues without having to deal with angry parents who oppose mask mandates for political or personal reasons.

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