ASD superintendent says new CDC guidance informed masking recommendation

The Anchorage School District is requiring masks for students and staff this fall while they...
The Anchorage School District is requiring masks for students and staff this fall while they are indoors.(ktuu)
Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 4:48 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop said making the recommendation for mandatory masking while indoors for students and staff this fall was, in part, based on recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Anchorage School Board accepted Bishop’s recommendations for an updated COVID-19 mitigation plan for the coming school year during their Tuesday night meeting. Along with full class schedules and regular classroom cleaning, it calls for masking while indoors for all students, staff and visitors. Wearing a mask while outdoors will be optional.

The CDC guidance addresses what’s considered a close contact in school settings. It says students are not considered close contacts of someone who tests positive for COVID-19, even if they were in close proximity, “if both the infected student and the exposed student(s) correctly and consistently wore well-fitting masks the entire time.”

This means that if a student in a school tests positive, other students who were near them do not have to leave school to quarantine if they were properly masked. Bishop said the guidance is a game changer for Anchorage schools because it means entire classrooms won’t have quarantine.

“I would say, shutting down classrooms, having to go from in-school to online, occurred more because of close contacts,” she said. “We would have a case and it could be 20 kids who had to go home as well, just because they were close contacts. With masks, children in pre-K through 12(th grade) don’t have to quarantine. They can stay in school while those who had the positive case, if they do, are the only ones who go home.”

This exception only applies to students, not to “teachers, staff, or other adults in the indoor classroom setting,” according to the CDC. That means a teacher or staff member who is identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19 could still have to leave to quarantine.

Bishop explained during Tuesday’s school board meeting that teachers and staff who are identified as close contacts do not have to quarantine if they are fully vaccinated. Teachers and staff who are not vaccinated would have to leave to quarantine if they were identified as a close contact, she said, and they would have to use their own leave time for that.

Bishop said masking is key to keeping schools open, although it’s possible the new policy may not be in place the entire year.

“The moment that we see that things are calming down in our community and things, you know, with the viral spread are better, then we look to change as well,” she said.

She said her No. 1 goal is keeping schools open so that children can continue to learn.

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