COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – Muscogee County School District tentatively announced plans to move from a mask mandate to a mask-optional model in the new year, but that decision is now on hold following a post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases.

Prior to the holiday break, active COVID-19 cases in the district had reached a record low, with less than .5% of students and staff testing positive. The encouraging lows led district officials to release a memo to parents, announcing a transition to mask-optional instruction following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Jan. 17th. That may not be the case anymore, according to Muscogee County Schools Superintendent Dr. David Lewis.

Obviously with the surge, that has put that on a little bit of a hiatus and we are continuing to work with our medical panel, to evaluate our local conditions. Obviously the safety and welfare of our students and staff are paramount, so we’ll do that when its prudent to do so for us.

Dr. David Lewis, Muscogee County School District Superintendent

The district’s medical panel, composed of 19 professionals—including pediatricians, epidemiologists, and Department of Public Health officials—helps navigate the school district’s safety guidelines.

The ultimate goal is to keep students in the classroom. “As we’re able to, as we have proven in the past, we will remove those [regulations] one layer at a time when its prudent to do so and safe to do so, and we feel like that has been very successful thus far,” Dr. Lewis said.

As students return to the classroom on January 6th, the mask mandate will still be in place. District officials say they need to assess the local cases before making any changes. The Muscogee County School District wants to make sure that if they decide to go mask optional, they can stay mask optional. They are waiting until January 14th to make the call. 

Doing this safely and also making sure that when we do this, we can keep it in place is incredibly important. We don’t want to be vacillating back and forth between mask mandates or not. We want to be able to move toward that as soon as its prudent to do so and keep it that way.

Dr. David Lewis, Muscogee County School District Superintendent