Anchorage School District says masks will likely be optional this fall
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage School District says a policy that makes mask wearing optional for students and staff during summer learning programs is likely to continue when students go back to class this fall.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued guidance that recommends mask wearing indoors for anyone age 2 and up who isn’t vaccinated. But District Spokesperson Lisa Miller said some choices surrounding COVID-19 are left for parents to decide.
“The parents will decide if their child is eligible, and wants to receive the vaccine, that’s up to the parents,” Miller said. “Same with masking. We recommend folks that aren’t vaccinated wear masks, but that’s a family discussion and family choice.”
The optional mask policy was put into effect for summer learning programs that began in early June. Miller said there have been six confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the program started, all at separate schools. She called the numbers low considering there are as many as 10,000 students registered for the summer program.
And while the district isn’t mandating vaccines, it is trying to make it easier for older students and their families to get them by offering free clinics at local schools. The Pfizer vaccine is available for anyone aged 12 and over. Christy Lawton, Public Health Division manager with the Anchorage Health Department, said students who begin their course now should be close to fully vaccinated when school starts on Aug. 17.
“So we really want to encourage people to get vaccinated this week,” Lawton said. “And even if you don’t get perfectly in that timeline you will have protection, and some protection is better than none.”
In an earlier interview, Lawton said there are just about 11,300 youth in the municipality between the ages of 12 and 19. As of Monday, she said about 30% of that group are fully vaccinated so far, and that the health department would like to see those numbers be higher.
While there have been reports of negative reactions to the vaccine in the early days of the rollout in adults, Lawton said there haven’t been any reported in youth in Anchorage.
“I have not personally heard of any reports of adverse reactions post vaccine or any longer term indications of reactions or consequences,” she said. “So all the reports is that 12 and up have tolerated it very well.”
One school district policy that has changed may become an incentive to vaccinate. The district is no longer requiring students who are fully vaccinated to quarantine if they’ve been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19.
Miller said that was a big issue last year for student athletes where entire teams had to quarantine for up to 10 days if someone tested positive. Now, if a student is vaccinated, they’ll be allowed to keep on playing.
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