MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Gov. Kay Ivey says children should return to schools in person and without any mask mandates in place, despite the American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday releasing guidance that recommends students over two, and all school staff, mask up amid growing cases and hospitalizations.
“Governor Ivey believes students need to be in the classroom without any type of mask requirement. She continues to encourage all eligible Alabamians to roll up their sleeves and get the vaccine to make COVID-19 a distant memory,” Ivey’s press secretary, Gina Maiola, said in a message to APR, which was first reported by AL.com.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and public health officials recommend that everyone over 12 get vaccinated against COVID-19. The academy’s guidance recommends universal masking in schools and notes that “a significant portion of the student population is not eligible for vaccination” and monitoring and enforcing mask policies for the unvaccinated in schools would be difficult.
The new guidance also states the mask mandate is needed because of continued concerns about variants “that are more easily spread among children, adolescents, and adults.”
The more contagious Delta variant is quickly becoming dominant in Alabama and across the country. A UAB lab manager last week said that of the state’s most recent samples, the Delta variant made up nearly 71%.
Alabama in recent weeks has seen a rapid increase in new cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations. On Monday, there were 469 hospitalized with COVID-19 in Alabama, a growth of 129% since July 1.
Alabama averaged 815 new daily cases over the last week, a 286% increase from July 1.
“Part of this almost certainly is the Delta variant which we’re increasingly detecting across Alabama,” said Dr. David Kimberlin, co-director of UAB’s division of pediatric infectious diseases, speaking with reporters Friday.
Alabama has the lowest percentage of fully vaccinated residents in the nation, and just 4.8% of children in Alabama up to age 17 are vaccinated, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Asked Friday about the pending return to classrooms and the low rate of vaccinations in children, Kimberlin said he recommends that everyone 12 and older get vaccinated and those who can’t should wear masks and practice social distancing.
“That’s what’s going to, number one, protect that person’s health, perhaps that person’s life, but also their loved ones, their friends, their neighbors, their schoolmates, the classroom workers, the cafeteria workers at their schools,” Kimberlin said.