Kentucky Education Department: Unvaccinated students, staff should wear masks when indoors – Courier Journal

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The Kentucky Department of Education released updated COVID-19 guidance Thursday that follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in recommending any unvaccinated students or staff wear masks while indoors.

The new state guidance for K-12 schools also says they should consider the “universal use of masks” if they would have difficulty “monitoring or enforcing mask policies” or cannot monitor the vaccination status of students and staff, among other factors.

Anyone with an exemption, such as a disability or medical condition, does not need to wear a mask indoors if they are unvaccinated, the KDE guidance says.

In settings where “most individuals are unvaccinated,” such as classrooms with children under 12 years of age, the guidance says “mask use is particularly important when physical distancing is not possible or when other activities with elevated risk of COVID-19 transmission (e.g., singing, shouting, blowing instruments) are occurring.”

“In general, people do not need to wear masks when outdoors, though mask use may be considered in outdoor settings that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated,” the guidance also says.

Related: Jefferson County Public Schools now requires masks for unvaccinated students, staff

KDE also continues to ask school districts to require masks on school buses for all students two years and older, unless otherwise exempted, in accordance with federal health guidelines related to face coverings on public transportation.

The state education department said districts should continue to consider “universal” mask mandates based on the following factors:

  • Presence of a student population that is not yet eligible for vaccination (e.g., schools with grades prekindergarten through 6)
  • Increasing or high COVID-19 transmission within the surrounding community or school
  • Difficulty monitoring or enforcing mask policies that are not universal
  • Inability to monitor the vaccine status of students and/or teachers and staff
  • Awareness of low vaccination uptake within the community and/or school setting
  • Community preference for universal mask use in school settings

A “modified strategy of only implementing universal mask use during activities when physical distancing is not feasible,” such as when students change classes or mix with other groups of students, “may also be considered,” according to KDE.

The state education department is also urging Kentucky schools to “promote and offer vaccination” to students 12 years and older, teachers, staff and family members.

They can do that in part by providing on-site vaccinations or hosting vaccination clinics at schools, working with local partners to offer vaccinations during summer sports practices and extracurricular activities and sharing information with families on vaccine safety and availability in local communities, according to KDE.

Other aspects of the guidance for in-person learning — covering areas like social distancing, ventilation, sanitation and contact tracing — have already been familiar aspects of the past academic year amid the pandemic.

KDE noted near the top of its new guidance that “evidence from the 2020-2021 school year suggests K-12 schools can safely open for in-person instruction when layered prevention strategies are implemented.”

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Mask requirements for unvaccinated students and staff have remained, at times, a contentious topic ahead of the upcoming school year.

The state’s largest district, Jefferson County Public Schools, announced last weekend it will require unvaccinated students and staff to wear face masks while indoors.

Louisville’s public school district told families the move was based on new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that “recommends masks for any student or staff member who is not fully vaccinated while inside school property.”

The requirement began Monday, with about 6,500 kids enrolled in the district’s summer learning programs.

It is expected to remain in place until the JCPS board is expected to vote during a July 27 meeting on what coronavirus-related safety requirements will be in place for the 2021-22 school year.

Reach Billy Kobin at [email protected]