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Mat-Su schools drop masks to ‘strongly urged’ for schools at medium risk

Published: Jan. 29, 2022 at 5:22 PM AKST|Updated: Jan. 31, 2022 at 6:00 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In a letter to Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District parents, Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani said that masks would no longer be required in schools that are in a yellow, medium risk operational zone.

Mat-Su schools opened the school year with three operational zones, not requiring masks at the green, low-risk zone with low transmission of COVID-19, providing that masks may be required in schools at the yellow medium risk level, and closing schools at the red operational zone with widespread community transmission. As of the last reporting by the district on Monday, 36 out of 47 schools were qualified as medium risk, accounting for over 76% of all schools in the district.

A Health Action Team meets daily to monitor COVID-19 cases within Mat-Su schools in consultation with Mat-Su Public Health. Trani wrote that the changes would go into effect on Monday, Jan. 31.

“Based on many factors, including hospital capacity, our own data about the sources of current infection and the rate of spread in different environments, the lack of community support for ongoing mask requirements, as well as the availability of vaccines for all students and staff; the MSBSD will be changing our mitigation strategy with regard to masking when schools move to a yellow operational zone,” Trani wrote. “While in a Yellow Operational Zone, we will strongly urge staff and students to wear masks but they will no longer be required.”

In an interview with Alaska’s News Source on Monday, Trani said a community survey of parents, staff and a few students also played a role in the decision to drop masking requirements. According to Trani, approximately 54% of those surveyed were in favor of making masks optional, while about 33% opted for universal masking. Trani said the primary goal of the district is to address policies that can potentially prevent students from getting an education.

“When we moved to masks then all of a sudden our absentee rate would go up and parents would tell us, ‘I’m not putting my school until it’s back to masking optional,’” Trani said.

Students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 will still need to remain out of school for at least five days, as long as they remain masked for the last five days of their 10-day quarantine. According to the district’s own COVID-19 dashboard, 4,865 cases have been reported among students and staff thus far this school year, and 93 new cases were reported among the school community on Monday.

Trani wrote that the Health Action Team and district may reinstate “any and all mitigation practices if needed.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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