Masks required vs. Masks Optional: Comparing COVID-19 cases in Lee County Schools

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LEE COUNTY, Ala. (WRBL) – The Lee County school board is re-thinking its stance on masks after nearly 200 students, teachers, and staff tested positive for COVID-19 during the first seven days of school. Lee County was one of the only school districts that allowed parents to decide if they wanted to send their kids to school in masks or not. However, the superintendent is mandating masks starting Monday after a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases.

The first five days of school, August 9-13, Lee County recorded 105 positive cases of COVID-19. Monday and Tuesday, August 17 and 17th, they had 88 positive cases, for a total of 193 cases in schools where masks were optional.

In Auburn City Schools, where masks are required, schools reported 12 confirmed cases during the first four school days, August 10-13th. Auburn City Schools started their school year on Tuesday, August 10th. Lee County Schools began instruction on Monday, August 9th.

Auburn City Schools has approximately 9,100 K-12 students. Lee County Schools has a little more than 9,000 K-12 students.

Opelika is also mandating masks in schools. We can’t share Opelika’s cases with you because they are not releasing their numbers to the public; they are reporting to the Alabama Department of Public Health. ADPH will resume its COVID-19 School Dashboard in September.

Source: Lee County School System, Auburn City Schools

“The primary goal of our school system is to educate children in the safest environment we can provide. We must be open to provide the best possible quality education. To remain open for in-person learning, at this time we must add, specific mitigation strategy. Effective Monday, August 23, 2021, facial covering/masks will be required for all individuals while indoors at any Lee county schools facility,” said Lee County School Superintendent Dr. James McCoy.

The high number of cases within Lee County Schools also led to Wacoochee Elementary School reverting to virtual learning after high number of COVID-19 cases. 

Lee County Schools are requiring masks on Monday after trying the first two weeks with masks being optional. The first five days of school, August 9-13, Lee County recorded 105 positive cases of COVID-19. Monday and Tuesday, August 17 and 17th, they had 88 positive cases, for a total of 193 cases in schools.

The school posted a letter to parents Friday on social media:

Due to the high rate of COVID exposures and while in collaboration with Dr. McCoy, we have decided that transitioning to blended learning from Monday, August 23 – Friday, August 27, is best for Wacoochee Elementary School. This transition will result in our after-school program being suspended also.  We will resume traditional learning and the extended day program on Monday, August 30, 2021. Please continue to be on the lookout for any updated information should changes occur.

Lessons will be provided via Google Classroom. Teachers will upload assignments to their Google Classrooms, meet with students via Zoom, and hold daily office hours. During these office hours, teachers will be available to zoom with students to answer questions about the content. There is a great deal of instruction we need to provide to our students, so it is IMPERATIVE that they continue to work hard, attend the Zoom scheduled sessions, turn in assignments and ask for help from their teachers.

Students will take their belongings with them when they leave today. Also, the lunchroom will be serving meals from the front entrance of the school, if students will be needing a meal. Please drive through the car rider line at the front entrance between 10:00 – 11:00 CST. Parents will need to bring the student’s lunch card, lunch number, or the child to pick up the meals.

We appreciate your understanding and support, as we strive to keep our faculty, staff, students, and WES families safe and navigate this pandemic together.  We will continue to work every day to support our students and each other through this time that is far from business as usual; together all things are possible. Let’s remember to work together to bring those COVID positive case numbers back down by practicing safety protocols – wearing masks, physically distancing, frequent handwashing, etc. Together, our actions can make a difference for our entire community.

Meanwhile, Alabama Public Health reports a significant increase in pediatric cases compared to last year. Alabama has at least 50 children hospitalized statewide, with at least nine children on ventilators in a single day.

“I am very concerned children of Alabama are experiencing more illness and hospitalizations as a result of COVID-19. COVID-19 can be a very serious illness in children, with at least 6 percent of children experiencing long-term consequences. Further, at least 113 children in our state have suffered from Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome of Childhood (MIS-C), a severe illness that occurs after COVID disease and affects several organs, including the brain, heart, lungs, and kidneys, among other body systems,” said ADPH pediatrician, Dr. Karen Landers said quote:

Alabama Health Officials, east Alabama hospital officials, and pediatricians continue urging those 12 and up to get vaccinated and wear masks.

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