As students return from Christmas break, an increasing number of school districts are ordering them to wear masks, but the number is still a fraction of what it was during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As per US News, due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, a number of schools have begun temporarily implementing masking regulations this week after probable increased travel and meetings around the holidays.
Ann Arbor, Michigan, public schools joined the expanding list on Sunday when Superintendent Jeanice Kerr Swift announced a mask requirement for students, staff, and visitors from January 9-20.
“During this time of return from travel and social activities, the requirement of masks while indoors at school is a measure to limit the spread of respiratory infections and related absences, as well as to emphasize health and in-school learning,” Kerr Swift said. “We are all aware of the crucial value of our kids and faculty being there for in-school instruction on a daily basis.”
During the height of the pandemic, masks were one of the most conspicuous – and most controversial – preventative tactics. Their usage was extensively political, which complicated the acceptance of the fundamental precaution and presumably prevented the return of any directives requiring their use other than targeted, local ones. Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania school districts have also imposed similar mandates.
The superintendent of the Chelsea Public Schools in Boston did not provide an end date for the mask requirement, stating that “masks must be worn at all times in school facilities, except when eating.” Last month, school districts in New Jersey and Pennsylvania informed pupils that masking regulations would be reinstated following the winter break.
“I am aware that this is both a relief and a source of annoyance for some. Regardless of your opinion, I request your collaboration,” wrote Eileen Shafer, superintendent of the Paterson school district in New Jersey, in a letter. “Please continue to maintain universal masking throughout our buildings, and we advise you to take all necessary precautions against the spread of the COVID-19, RSV, and influenza virus, including frequent hand washing, avoiding big gatherings, and staying at home when ill.”
Before entering classrooms, Chicago Public Schools required students and personnel to take a COVID-19 test but did not require masks. “In order to ensure the safety of our school communities, please take a COVID-19 test before returning to school,” read the notification. “If you test positive, please report it using the COVID-19 Self-Reporting Form and follow our safety page’s instructions.”
Despite the spread of many respiratory viruses, the number of schools mandating mask wear is nothing near what it was at earlier stages in the epidemic. Despite an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths, a growing number of Americans are eager to return to their pre-pandemic lifestyles, highlighting a shift away from public health mitigating measures.
According to the CDC, 75% of the country’s counties are seeing “high” levels of COVID-19 transmission. Nonetheless, just 20% of counties are considered to be under a CDC requirement to wear masks while indoors in public settings, according to the agency’s “community levels” guidance published in February, which differs from transmission levels.
During a December call with media, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky reiterated the need of wearing a mask when traveling by airline, train, bus, or other public transportation, as well as for those who are immunocompromised or at high risk of contracting a severe illness.