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Kentucky school districts deciding own mask guidance

Recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding mask usage due to the COVID-19 pandemic when school classes resume for the fall semester has local districts in Kentucky going their own way on the issue.

Last Friday the CDC recommended wearing a mask while indoors for everyone who is not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and maintaining three feet of distance within classrooms.

The CDC said administrators can also require indoor mask use for students, teachers, and staff who are vaccinated, depending on the local needs of the community.  That includes schools with children under age 12, who have not been approved for a vaccine yet, or high rates of the coronavirus in the region.

Last month, the Kentucky Department of Education lifted its mandate on mask use and social distancing, while saying school districts may, at their discretion, continue to implement appropriate mitigation strategies that align with CDC guidance.

The KDE said on June 11 those who choose to wear a mask as a matter of personal preference or comfort should be allowed to continue to do so, adding the Kentucky Department for Public Health recommends, but does not require, that schools continue to follow CDC guidance.

The Jefferson County Public Schools, the state’s largest district, is one of those who will require masks for unvaccinated students, at least for now.

“In accordance with new CDC guidance that was issued on Friday, all unvaccinated JCPS students and staff will wear a mask indoors,” said JCPS Board member James Craig in a post on social media.  “The board will consider at its July 27 meeting how to implement the new CDC guidance, with any pending guidance from the Kentucky Department of Education for the upcoming 2021-2022 school year.”

Meanwhile, students who are eligible to get the vaccine are staying away in droves, according to a story in Kentucky Health News that appears in Kentucky Today.

They say the state Department for Public Health reports  85,610 youth aged 12 to 17 have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, the only one approved for those 12 to 15.

U.S. Census Bureau says that number is about 25 percent of the 12-17 age group in Kentucky.  The Kids Count Data Center, using data, says there were 341,365 children 12 to 17 in the state in 2019.

Overall, cases of COVID-19 are on the rise once again in Kentucky.  While there were only 164 new cases reported to state public health officials on Monday, the positivity rate has risen to 3.38%.  Seven days ago, the positivity rate was 2.47%, and just 1.87% a week earlier.

Since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Kentucky on March 6, 2020, the state has now seen a total of 467,612 cases, with 7,265 deaths attributed at least in part, to the coronavirus.