BAY MINETTE – Masks will be required for students and teachers in Baldwin County public schools, when classes resume Aug. 11, Superintendent of Education Eddie Tyler said Thursday, July 29.
Tyler said earlier in the week that masks would be not required, but said later developments had required that the school system resume the use of facial protection as a precaution against COVID-19 at least until Sept. 10.
“I have made the decision we are going to start back to school with masks being mandatory for all employees, visitors and students, second grade and higher, while in our buildings or on our buses through Sept. 10. I don't think I need to go back through the details of how this will work. I believe everyone remembers well from last year. Your principals will have more to say in the coming week as they welcome you back to school,” Tyler said in a letter sent to parents Thursday.
He said anyone traveling by bus or in school buildings during the school day will be required to wear a mask. Masks will not be mandatory for students younger than the second grade level or who have medical exemptions.
Tyler said school officials will review the mask policy as school opens and decide if the requirement should be continued after Sept. 10. “It is my hope with the supportive efforts of you and your children, we will end this policy, as expected,” Tyler said.
Sanitization protocols in buildings and buses will continue. Social distancing will be encouraged and students and employees will be monitored for COVID-19 symptoms, Tyler said.
“Part of being a good leader is listening to others,” Tyler said. “I am not a medical expert but we have a team of medical, legal and crisis experts who work with our senior staff to keep us focused and help me make the right decisions. I think you will agree we have done a great job over the last 18 months and I hope you will continue to trust us.”
He said employees and students older than 12 are encouraged to be vaccinated.
“I understand the older population, which was once vulnerable, is safer today with so many having taken the vaccine. While that is good news, there have been some changes worth noting. Changes that seem to be impacting those who are vaccinated and also those under 18, who were once asymptomatic, which has shifted my 'personal responsibility' mindset,” Tyler said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidelines to encourage everyone, including people who are vaccinated, to wear masks.
“There is evidence that those who are vaccinated can get this new Delta variant. We have seen this firsthand within our system where vaccinated staff members came down with COVID in just the last week. This is troubling from a staffing perspective as we fight to keep our schools open,” Tyler said.
He said Dr. Michael Change, chief medical officer at Children’s and Women's Hospital and USA Health advised the school system that the Delta variant has more of an impact on children. “Dr. Chang informed me this week that the ICU at Children’s and Women’s Hospital has been at or near capacity. Other administrators have advised us of the same information on ICU units across South Alabama's hospitals and these experts believe this will continue,” Tyler said.
“While the death rate is low, it seems ridiculous to me we would make our decisions simply based on whether or not people are dying. I am very grateful we have a low death rate but I don't want our actions, or lack of actions, to impact that. Reducing the spread is critical to keeping hospitalizations low, which will allow medical professionals to be successful in that fight,” he added.
Medical experts have also warned that children are suffering from blood clots and inflammation, known as myocarditis, from the COVID infection. Both of these can be very dangerous and lethal for otherwise healthy children, even after fully recovering from COVID, Tyler said.
“This change from the COVID variant where children were virtually asymptomatic to this new Delta variant, where children are not only sick but being admitted to ICU, is concerning. It is simply not worth the risk to not wear a mask. I understand all the reasons not to and two weeks ago, things were different but that's just the reality of how fast things can change and how honest leaders should respond,” Tyler said in the letter.
He said some medical experts believe the current outbreak may peak in a few weeks and masks may not be required.
“Parents, my ultimate goal is and has been to keep our kids and employees safe, keep school open and to support our community and our economy. I understand masks are an inconvenience. They are uncomfortable and many argue a distraction or even mildly unhealthy but folks, let's not be shortsighted about this. Children under 12 cannot get a vaccine and Alabama has among the lowest vaccination rates in the nation so our students OVER 12 aren't breaking any records to get the vaccine either. Many parents have serious concerns about vaccinating their children and I would not second guess their concerns but as a result, we have a new strain of this virus, which is many times more infectious and contagious. More importantly, it is impacting children like we haven't seen before,” Tyler said.