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Hallie Copenhaver works on assignments masked and behind plexiglass shields in Ms. Friedman's 1st and 2nd grade class at Occoquan Elementary, Nov. 10, 2020.

The Virginia departments of health and education are recommending that public schools require all elementary school students, teachers and staff to wear masks in schools this fall. 

The guidance from the state Department of Education and Department of Health, released Wednesday, leaves the ultimate decision regarding mask-wearing up to individual school divisions and also reinforces the importance of in-person learning.

All of Northern Virginia's school systems plan to return to full, in-person learning five days a week this fall, although students do have the ability to opt-in to remote learning only.   

The state agencies said masks should be required in elementary schools until COVID-19 vaccines are available for children under age 12 and there has been sufficient time to allow for the younger children to be fully vaccinated.

Other highlights of the guidance are as follows:

  • Middle and high schools should require that students, teachers and staff who are not fully vaccinated wear masks indoors. School divisions should consult with their legal counsel in determining if and how to confirm student and staff COVID-19 vaccinations.
  • All schools may want to consider universal masking for specific reasons as outlined in certain circumstances by the Centers for Disease Control.
  • All schools should be prepared to adjust local mask policies as local public health conditions evolve throughout the year.
  • The CDC order requiring masks be worn on public transportation remains in effect, and applies to buses operated by Virginia public schools.

“The science is clear that vaccinations and masks help keep our communities safe from COVID-19,” said Dr. Daniel Carey, Virginia's secretary of health and human resources.   “Due to the dedication, expertise and close partnership of the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education, the commonwealth’s children and the individuals that help them learn will be protected by proven strategies, without a one-size-fits-all approach.”

All schools in Virginia are required to make in-person instruction available to all students in the 2021-22 school year, pursuant to legislation passed during this winter's legislative session. According to the updated guidance, physical distancing of at least 3 feet should be maximized to the greatest extent possible but schools should not reduce in-person learning to keep a minimum distance requirement.

“We know that students learn best in school buildings, and this guidance ensures that divisions have the flexibility and support they need to provide access to in-person learning five days a week,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “I’m grateful to all of the school administrators, educators and staff who have gone above and beyond to provide high quality instruction and support to students during this challenging time.”

The guidance recommends that divisions work with local health departments to implement mitigation strategies based on information about the levels of community transmission, local vaccine coverage, the occurrence of cases and outbreaks in schools, and the use of screening testing data to detect cases in schools.

Release of the guidance comes as the state is seeing a surge in new COVID-19 cases, primarily among unvaccinated individuals.  The seven-day average of new cases is now over 460 a day statewide and over 100 a day in Northern Virginia, both the highest levels since mid-May. 

 “Virginia has followed the science throughout this pandemic, and that’s what we continue to do,” said Gov. Ralph Northam. “This guidance takes into consideration recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and will provide necessary flexibility for school divisions while ensuring a safe, healthy, and world-class learning environment for Virginia’s students. Again, I strongly urge every eligible Virginian to get vaccinated. Getting your shot will protect you, your family, and your community—and it is the only way we can beat this pandemic once and for all.”

Just under 60% of all Virginians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and over 71% of adults have received at least one dose. However, the pace of vaccinations has declined sharply and is currently averaging only about 11,000 per day, the lowest level since early January.

Virginia Republicans blasted the new guidance. In a statement, House of Delegates Minority Leader Todd Gilbert said the guidance "is inconsistent with science, passes the buck to local school divisions, will spark mass confusion, and will make it more difficult as our students return to the classroom this fall. It’s an especially cruel requirement for young children, and will only make it more difficult for our teachers to inspire a love of learning in students."

Gilbert urged Virginians to be vaccinated if at all possible.

"But there’s nothing to indicate that requiring an 8-year-old to wear a mask while taking a math test will substantially reduce the transmission of COVID or any new variant that is emerging," he added.

See more headlines at InsideNoVa.com. Email tips to info@insidenova.com.

(9) comments

Bill Rio

Masks forever

Robert Segall

You think masks are going to work in a closed room for 6 hours? You should read the studies done in OR rooms where its proven masks aren't effective in long duration scenarios.

A.B. Herman

Masks are not "effective" in operating rooms at doing what, exactly, according to these studies? I think you fundamentally misunderstand the function of masking in a sterile field room.

Doctors, nurses, and surgical support staff wear masks in operating rooms to help keep surfaces sterile, not the air. It helps to keep their saliva from landing on instruments, patients, and each other while they're working in a sterile field.

They rely on state and federal ventilation codes and standards to sterilize the air. Hospitals in general are required by law to use exchangers to scrub the air so many times per hour (I think the standard minimum for an OR now is 15).

Rated surgical masks with multiple layers are extremely effective at what they're designed to do: Keep doctors and nurses from spitting all over their patients when they talk to each other. If an OR is playing host to airborne contamination, the ventilation is not doing what it's supposed to be doing.

Masks aren't perfect, but they're effective enough at keeping infectious people from spitting virus everywhere, and they're certainly better than nothing (they also help keep influenza and various tummy bugs at bay, which will be very important come this fall and winter in our schools).

Controlling spread is so incredibly important right now. Every brand new immune system this virus throws a party in moves us closer to the nightmare scenario: A viral mutation that evades our vaccines faster than we can keep up.

Haven't enough people been sickened and killed? Delta is here, and it's nasty. A mask is a relatively tiny ask when the stakes are so high.

Lance Livestrong

I thought your comments were Brilliant, until I got to this:

"Masks aren't perfect, but they're effective enough at keeping infectious people from spitting virus everywhere, and they're certainly better than nothing (they also help keep influenza and various tummy bugs at bay, which will be very important come this fall and winter in our schools).

Controlling spread is so incredibly important right now. Every brand new immune system this virus throws a party in moves us closer to the nightmare scenario: A viral mutation that evades our vaccines faster than we can keep up.

Haven't enough people been sickened and killed? Delta is here, and it's nasty. A mask is a relatively tiny ask when the stakes are so high."

https://banned.video/watch?id=60eccfd9eac9c959a4f8a2ae

https://www.bitchute.com/video/4FdvU43qOdfD/

Let's see what you and others think of that.

[scared]

John Dutko

https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covid-19-data-insights/covid-19-cases-by-vaccination-status/

I love the breakdown of the data between those that got the shot and those that didn't. Like it is two different worlds.

I will admit that I didn't listen to all 85min of that discount Lex Luthor, and I neither have the time nor the inclination to do so.

However, I would like to know more about M-CAM, the scam company that Dr. Martin founded in 1998. https://www.m-cam.com/about-us/

I mean, it says he is a Dr., right? But is he a medical doctor? Nope!

So you go ahead and put your faith into charlatans who cosplay as medical professionals.

But what do I know. I'm just a rando person on the internet who sees through BS like this hack.

Lance Livestrong

J.D.,

Thank you for taking some time to view the video. And you're right, and I was aware Martin, is Not, an M.D. Now I can provide another video similar of an M.D. with respectable medical credentials who has reached very similar conclusions as well. The M-CAM company, I too was a bit hesitant looking into it, but I'm still not sure if the guy is in fact scamming people?

I wouldn't say I'm necessarily putting my faith into this guy specifically, but the patent(s) and the information provided obviously rings alarm bells, at least for me they did.

Lance Livestrong

He was able to provide a very detailed timeline of events of the patent process, and how it has ultimately manipulated and taken advantage of the masses, and huge profits for the people in charge of vaccines and testing. With the sole purpose os using the media to gain traction. The devil is in the details, always.

Lance Livestrong

https://banned.video/watch?id=60f9f8c273a7b3082db3e9ec

Andrew Kaufman, M.D.

Paul Benedict

I'm sorry, but your comments are nutty. The so-called Delta Variant is not worse than the original virus. It does not kill more people. I suspect more children will be hurt by wearing masks than by the virus. If you are an old person who has not been vaccinated, you may want to wear a mask, but don't make healthy children do so. Science can be your friend when used properly. Unfortunately, much of science has been politicized so people don't trust anybody. You are being misled by fanatics.

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