City DopeNews

Masks ‘Strongly Encouraged’ as CCSD Students Return to School

Stock photo by Alexandra Koch.

In light of another COVID-19 surge, the Clarke County School District is encouraging wearing masks inside schools as children return to classrooms this week. But because of a new state law, CCSD can’t mandate masks as it did during the previous two school years.

“CCSD is aware that COVID-19 cases are once again on the rise in our area. With that in mind, we strongly encourage staff, students and visitors to wear masks/face coverings when in school settings that do not allow for social distancing. Schools will have face masks available for those who need one,” according to an announcement from the district. 

Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill in March allowing parents to opt out of school districts’ mask mandates, essentially ending the ability of school districts to require masks. At the time, Clayton County was the only school district still requiring masks. CCSD dropped its mandate last February.

Since then, however, new variants of the virus have led to a plateau and, it appears, another surge, with COVID-19 cases likely to spike further as University of Georgia students flood back into town. August brought an alarming rash of cases in both 2020 and 2021. 

This time, though, any spike will be more difficult to measure. UGA is no longer requiring students to tell the university if they test positive for COVID-19 and no longer reporting campus cases to the public. In addition, public health experts believe there are many times more cases than are now being officially reported by government agencies, which rely on tests taken at clinics and do not include at-home tests.

As of the Georgia Department of Public Health’s last weekly update on July 27, Clarke County had a seven-day rolling average of 31 new cases per day—high, but nowhere near previous surges. There is other evidence that infections are spreading rapidly, though. 

The Athens-Clarke County government did reinstate its mask mandate last month, based on community levels as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the CDC’s July 28 update, COVID-19 levels in Clarke County are “high,” with 213 cases per 100,000 people last week. 

“Wastewater levels confirm the high transmission levels for Athens-Clarke County noted by the CDC,” said UGA Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases professor Erin Lipp’s lab, which measures levels of the Sars-Cov-2 virus in local wastewater.

Twelve residents were hospitalized, and two died last week. Regionally, the number of intensive care unit beds occupied fell to 54, or 63% of capacity. Thirty-nine patients, or 6.5% of all patients, were hospitalized with COVID-19.

As for CCSD, it says it will continue to provide testing opportunities, is urging parents to keep their children at home if they’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, recommends that students and staff be vaccinated, and has installed ionizers in all buildings to filter the air.