Opelika City Schools will require masks or face coverings be worn inside its eight schools when students return for fall classes, the school district announced Tuesday. The decision will go into effect Aug. 9 and is based on guidance from local health officials and East Alabama Medical Center, the press release says.
Masks will not be required for outside activities such as physical education and athletics.
Opelika City Schools will monitor local COVID-19 data in hopes that local conditions improve and the mask requirement will become optional in the near future, according to the press release.
“Due to the upward trend of COVID transmission and the current local positivity rate, this decision is in the best interest of our students and staff at this time,” said Mark Neighbors, Opelika City Schools superintendent. “It is important for everyone to follow the guidelines and do their part to help us have a safe and successful start to the school year.”
Other nearby school systems have not said they will require masks for the start of the 2021-2022 school year. Based on Auburn City Schools' fall 2021 opening plan, masks will be optional for students and staff when classes start. A letter from James E. McCoy, superintendent of Lee County Schools — which lifted its mask requirement in April, unlike Opelika City Schools and Auburn City Schools — does not mention masks in its plan for returning to normal operations for the 2021-2022 school year.
With the statewide mask mandate expired, the Alabama Board of Education has not made any official recommendations for school districts to institute their own mask requirements, according to a recap of the Board’s July 2021 meeting on the ALBOE website.
In its guidance for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that all individuals age two and older should wear masks indoors if they are not fully vaccinated.
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While studies have made different claims about just how much children contribute to the spread of the virus, several studies cited by the CDC show that children can be infected with COVID-19, can get sick with COVID-19 and can spread the virus to others. Compared to adults, children experience milder or no symptoms from the virus, but any long-term effects of the virus on children are still unknown, the CDC says.
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