ARKANSAS, USA — This week we’ve seen several local school districts end their mask requirements for students and staff citing low case numbers in their districts.
Rogers Schools no longer require masks for students and staff in pre-k through 6th grade, but they strongly encourage them.
Communications director, Ashley Siwiec says the decision was made by the board of education late last month to make them optional for those grades when the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement map moved Rogers from the red to the yellow zone. To move from red to yellow there can only be between 20 and 29 covid infections per 10,000 residents of the school district in the last 14 days.
“We are very encouraged of the declining rate of new cases. Even today, this morning there were no new cases reported to us, so that was just a great moment. We hope we are seeing a continuing decline," Siwiec said.
The Arkansas Department of Health, says it still stands with the recommendation from the CDC, that masks should be worn in all K through 12th-grade settings regardless of vaccination status or level of community spread.
Dr. Joel Tumlison is a physician in outbreak response with ADH. He warns school districts should not make masks optional too soon.
“Getting out of the red zone on our map looks good but those are still fairly high levels of community spread. They are no way near as bad as they were It is safer than it was a month ago, that’s good but it’s not in an overall sense as if there aren’t cases circulating in the community,” Dr. Tumlison said.
Earlier this week, Pfizer submitted data to the FDA asking for emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine to be given to children ages 5 to 11. Dr. Tumlison says this is exciting that kids could be eligible for the vaccine sooner than expected.
“I think that’s going to go a long way in helping to make schools even safer and elevating…and the more people that are vaccinated, the more they are protected, and the fewer kids miss class and lose learning,” Dr. Tumlison said.
A new quarantine exemption will include even more schools’ once children 11 and under can get the vaccine. If 70% or more of a school’s population is fully vaccinated, they will not be required to quarantine if there is exposure at school.