Schools looking at mask options for fall

CARTHAGE, Mo. – As vaccine trials expand to younger children there’s discussions on whether unvaccinated students should be required to mask up.

School is out for the summer, save summer school, and districts are already looking ahead to the fall, by looking back at what they’ve learned. One of those things is the effectiveness of masks against things beyond the Coronavirus. Carthage Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Baker says “If something else happens, hopefully not as bad as this pandemic, that potentially masks could help slow down the spread of germs.”

The challenge districts are facing, is whether or not to mandate masks for unvaccinated students for the upcoming year. In Carthage, they’re testing a voluntary mask policy right now. “During our summer school right now we’re experimenting not wearing masks and so far things are going well, we’re in our second week, we have not had any type of spike, we don’t have any positive cases right now.”

Mercy’s Infectious Disease Preventionist Donna Stokes says there’s two sides to the mandate coin: one, the impact on students mental and social health, the other, their safety. Stokes says “What the research is showing is is that in those age groups, yes they can get COVID, the illness seems to be less severe, with less severe complications.”

Stokes says she expects masking to vary across the region. “I know that different states and even different school districts are already starting to try and make that decision, what are they going to do with the grade school age children when school starts.”

As for Carthage, they’re already prepped for the fall. Dr. Baker says “I think we’ll always have a volunteer option to wearing a mask, some parents might feel like it’s the best thing for their child, we will not require it unless something happens.

Stokes says it’s going to be important for local districts to stay in close communication with their local health officials and to be prepared to pivot to mask mandates on short notice.