MONTICELLO — DeWitt/Piatt Bi-County Health Department Administrator David Remmert does not see a need for school districts to change the mask-optional policies many have proposed for this fall — at least for now — despite changes in recommendations made Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control.
“I think it has to be based on the spread you see in the greater community,” Remmert said noting case numbers have been low Piatt County recently after the county went on the state warning list the week of July 11.
That warning level was based on a week when five people in one household tested positive for COVID-19.
“It (the warning level) will be short-lived. Our case numbers this past week went down by half,” Remmert added.
But he said if cases go on the rise again prior to school starting next month, additional mitigations could be in store.
“I just sent a letter to each of the school superintendents that they could share with their school board that basically said that if our area is on the state warning list, we would recommend enhanced mitigations at the schools,” Remmert said.
“But it should be based on community spread,” he said in regard to any masking mandates.
Piatt County school districts have said they will follow CDC guidelines, which now “recommend” masking indoors for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in areas where the virus is surging. Vaccinated persons were added to the guidelines yesterday.
Most area school districts are not using the term “optional” in their back to school policies, but have said in recent weeks it is essentially how they are interpreting the CDC recommendations.
The key, said Remmert, as that the federal guidelines on masking indoors apply to areas where there are higher case loads. In DeWitt and Piatt Counties, Remmert noted cases over the last two weeks have been relatively low.
In a health department update sent out Monday covering 11 days through Sunday, 8 new cases of COVID-19 had been reported in DeWitt County and 9 cases in Piatt County.
As of July 17, Piatt County was currently at a warning level in three of eight metrics — cases per 100,000, a positivity rate of 9.6 percent and tests performed.
But with cases before and after that week being relatively low, Remmert is not recommending masks in schools at this point.
“I don't think it makes any sense at all to push for masking if you don't have cases in your area,” he said.
DeWitt County is currently not on the state warning list.
Blue Ridge School Superintendent Hilary Stanifer said school policy for the fall is being changed to reflect the CDC addition of recommending vaccinated persons mask indoors. She confirmed there is no mandatory masking for school and staff at this point, but that they are following the CDC wording of “recommended.”
The Cerro Gordo school board approved its back to school policy Monday, also aligning with CDC guidelines.
Superintendent Brett Robinson pointed out the policy was “written in such a manner that we can make changes as needed, in consultation with the DeWitt-Piatt/Bi-County Health Department.”
While he does not feel mandatory masking in schools is necessary at this time, Remmert recommends those more at risk should wear masks indoors, especially those older than 65 and people who have compromised health.
“We're not saying 'don't mask.' Anyone who is uncomfortable with their situation should mask. But it's an optional thing. I think it leaves it up to the parents and the kids themselves to determine their own comfort level. If they feel they are at risk, they should mask up,” Remmert said.
The Monticello school board is expected to discuss its back-to-school plan tonight.