TAYLOR COUNTY—Following the alteration of mask mandates for students and staff in Taylor County Schools, county health officials have come together as a united front, penning a letter to the Taylor County Board of Education (TCBOE) and Superintendent Christy Miller.
Prior to the December 7 meeting of the TCBOE, staffers, students and guests were required to wear masks while inside of the county’s school facilities. However, beginning on Wednesday, December 8, that mandate was lifted to allow for parent choice, with a certain stipulation.
Miller recommended that when determining the need for masks without the color map, if five percent of any school staff and students are positive, that school and only that school would have to mask up for ten school days.
She reported that Grafton High School would have to have 36 individuals test positive, Taylor County Middle School 37, Anna Jarvis Elementary School 30, WTES 17 and Flemington Elementary School just eight positive cases.
However, citing a high community transmission rate, a rise in cases and increased hospitalizations and deaths, county health professionals decided to band together to present a united front in recommending changes to the new policy be made.
The letter, the work of Dr. Peter Wentzel, petitioned the TCBOE and Miller to reconsider the recent change to their mask policy in schools countywide.
“We are reaching out to you as local community medical professionals to express our concern over the policy changes related to masking and quarantining/contact tracing of Taylor County students,” the letter begins. “We believe that it is not in the best interest of our children or our community’s health to make mask wearing ‘parent choice’ at this time.”
They called to attention that masking within a school setting helped to keep school spread lower, even in communities that had seen higher transmission rates of the virus.
“We would like to point out that as of December 14, 2021, Taylor County had the highest community transmission in West Virginia,” Wentzel wrote on behalf of his colleagues. “Now is not a time to weaken proven measures that prevent COVID from spreading.”
The letter further stated that because in-school learning was superior to remote learning, keeping children healthy and in school was in the best interest of the child. The way to do that, they affirmed, is through mask wearing.
“While masks might be considered a nuisance, numerous studies have demonstrated no effect on academic or social development in students,” asserted the medical professionals. “Masks are a small civic duty to pay to ensure the best educational opportunity for our children.”
Backed by scientific sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the county’s health officials requested that the TCBOE resume universal masking within the school system until community spread was decreased.
It was their recommendation that the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources color metrics map or the Harvard map be assessed to make decision regarding mask wearing.
They suggested that if incidence rates were below an orange color designation, masks could become parent choice for students. They further recommend all other mitigation strategies, especially vaccination, contact tracing and quarantining be continued.