A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

State Department for Public Health recommends masks for unvaccinated students

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

The Kentucky Department for Public Health has released new guidance on ways schools can help slow the spread of COVID-19 as the 2021-2022 school year begins, based on the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to DPH officials, “This guidance emphasizes the implementation of layered prevention strategies to protect individuals who are not fully vaccinated and is intended to help school administrators and local health officials select appropriate, layered prevention strategies in their communities. Decisions around the implementation of layered prevention strategies in the school community should be made collaboratively by local public health officials and school administrators.”

It includes a series of steps local school districts should take when classes resume next month:

• Promote and offer vaccination to help increase the proportion of students (12 years of age or older), teachers, staff and family members who are vaccinated,

• Recommend masks for unvaccinated persons while indoors in all classroom and non-classroom settings, unless otherwise exempted (e.g., cannot wear a mask due to disability); in settings where most individuals are unvaccinated (e.g., classrooms with children less than 12 years old); when physical distancing is not possible or when other activities with an elevated risk of COVID-19 transmission (e.g., singing, shouting, blowing instruments) are occurring.

• Require masks on public transportation, including buses operated by public and private school systems, for all persons two years of age or older unless otherwise exempted, in accordance with federal public health orders. A bus driver is not required to use a mask if he or she is the only person on the bus.

• Physical distancing of at least 3 feet is recommended between K-12 students in classrooms where not everyone is fully vaccinated. Physical distancing of at least 6 feet is recommended between students and teachers/staff and between unvaccinated teachers/staff.

• Implement screening testing for unvaccinated students, teachers and/or staff to help promptly identify and isolate cases and to guide the use of layered prevention strategies in the school. Screening testing can be considered for unvaccinated individuals participating in sports and other extracurricular activities.

• Improve facility ventilation to the greatest extent possible to increase circulation of outdoor air and increase delivery of clean air. Utilize outdoor spaces, where possible.

• Teach and reinforce handwashing with soap and water for 20 seconds or use of hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. Ensure adequate supplies and opportunities for hand hygiene.

• Sick students, teachers, or staff stay home if they are having fever and/or symptoms of COVID-19. Those who test positive for COVID-19 should self-isolate away from school for 10 days after the start of their illness (or testing date) or otherwise follow the direction of the local public health department about when it is safe for them to be around others. Also, direct sick persons to a health care provider to be tested and instruct them to isolate at home until they receive their test result.

• Schools should work with the local health department to facilitate case investigation and contact tracing to identify individuals who have had close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID. Any unvaccinated students, teachers, or staff who are identified as close contacts should be instructed to self-quarantine regardless of whether the exposure occurred within or outside of the school setting. Fully vaccinated individuals do not need to quarantine if they are not symptomatic.

• Improve facility cleaning to the greatest extent possible. In general, cleaning once a day is enough to sufficiently remove potential viruses that may be on surfaces. Consider cleaning high-touch, shared surfaces more frequently.

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and DPH encourage school and district leaders to review the updated guidance documents and allow them to inform their decision-making.
Click here to read the document in its entirety.

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