MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Department of Public Health on Monday issued COVID-19 recommendations to public K-12 schools, which include universal masking for students and staff regardless of vaccination status.
The more contagious delta variant is circulating statewide, driving new cases and hospitalizations, the department notes in the guidance, and at least 108 children in Alabama who contracted COVID-19 have had Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, a rare but serious condition associated with COVID-19.
“The best CDC strategies for students to remain in the classroom, even if exposed to a positive COVID-19 case, are the use of masks, spacing, and vaccinations,” the guidance reads. “For those students too young for vaccinations, consistent and correct mask use and three feet (six feet is better) of social distance in classrooms will help students to remain in the classroom, and mitigate the further spread of the COVID-19 virus and prevent outbreaks.”
“Implementing universal masking, spacing, and vaccinations (when age-appropriate) recommendations will allow more students to remain in school, more parents and grandparents to remain at work, and most importantly prevent an outbreak in the school that could spread to the community at large,” ADPH writes.
ADPH’s recommendations for universal masking mirrors updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC updated its guidance after new data on the delta variant shows that viral loads carried by the vaccinated are as high as those carried by the unvaccinated, meaning the vaccinated can transmit the virus.
Alabama’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have grown by 190 percent over the last two weeks, with 1,451 Alabamians hospitalized on Sunday.
The state’s seven-day average for new daily cases reached 1,860 on Sunday, an 85 percent increase from two weeks ago.
The percent of COVID-19 tests that are positive in Alabama is 21.5 percent, well above the five percent or less public health officials believe is needed or else cases are going undetected.
For vaccinated students and staff, no quarantine is needed if identified as a close contact as long as the individual remains asymptomatic, according to the guidance.
ADPH recommends that teachers, staff, students, and visitors should keep a social distance of at least six feet in all areas, but students may reduce social distancing to three feet in classrooms if all are masked.
With no state mask mandate for the public or for schools, the decision whether to require masks has been left up to local school districts. Gov. Kay Ivey in recent weeks has said she has no plans to once again institute mask mandates or other mitigation measures, which public health officials stress can help prevent COVID-19’s spread and save lives.
Huntsville City Schools, Birmingham City Schools and Opelika City Schools have announced mask mandates in classrooms, and Baldwin County Schools will require masks through Sept. 10.
In a letter to school staff and parents included in the guidance, ADPH’s Dr. Karen Landers recommends that everyone over 12 get vaccinated to help prevent children under 12, who cannot be vaccinated, from getting sick.
“With low vaccination rates in Alabama it will be a matter of a few weeks after school resumes before we see a rise in cases in the educational system,” Landers wrote. “COVID-19 can be a significant disease in children. In Alabama, children have been hospitalized and some of those children have required mechanical ventilation for a period of time.”
Landers wrote that at least 108 children in Alabama have had Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, a rare but serious condition associated with COVID-19.
“Some scientific data indicates that, short term, up to half of children may have residual COVID-19 symptoms for a time, with around 6 percent having long-term symptoms,” Landers wrote.
This story originally appeared in the Alabama Political Reporter.