By Adam Strunk
With the start of school fewer than two weeks away, the Harvey County Health Department said this week that they recommend school districts require masks for students.
“We’re asking schools consider that and we strongly recommend that,” Harvey County Health Department Director Lynnette Redington said.
She said her daughter recently asked her about future masking at school.
“I said, ‘I understand the school doesn’t require it, but yes, you’ll have to wear a mask. As long as we’re in a substantial or high transmission level, it is asked that everyone in school settings to wear a mask.'”
She said the guidance is based on new Centers for Disease Control recommendations.
“We are going along with the science from the CDC that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment also supports,” she said.
The health department held a press conference Tuesday afternoon to discuss updated masking recommendations.
“They [the CDC] particularly are stressing if you’re in a substantial or high transmission level of COVID, if you’re in an area of that and we call our area the county, that they are asking all you who are vaccinated and indoors to wear a mask,” Redington said. “Unfortunately, though our numbers with vaccinations are good, we’re not good enough. We need to have individuals put masks back on, even if they’re fully vaccinated because we are in a range of a substantial transmission level.”
Over the last week, the county has seen 35 new COVID-19 cases with 26 occurring in the unvaccinated population. Since February, 38 out of 40 residents hospitalized were not fully vaccinated according to the county. It did have a vaccinated woman in her 90s die however, according to information released this week.
“We strongly recommend for all fully vaccinated people to continue to wear masks and be safe indoors,” Redington said. “For those not vaccinated, continue to keep your masks on.”
Within school buildings, students under 12 years old currently don’t qualify for vaccination.
No school district in the county had mask requirements in its back-to-school plans at the time of the press conference.
For context, the Newton school district currently recommends masks for students, but doesn’t require them. It has stated that it will continue to monitor the situation and make changes as needed.
The change in health recommendations comes as the more contagious Delta variant has become more common in the U.S.
While vaccinated people were previously not advised to mask in public, the CDC cited new data that shows those vaccinated could still spread the variant of the virus in rare cases.
Vaccines continue to prevent the contraction of COVID-19 or severe cases for nearly all who have received the shot.
CDC data for June showed that 99 percent of all COVID-19 fatalities occurred in the unvaccinated part of the population.
Since May, 86 percent of the new cases in the county (158 out of 184) have been with the unvaccinated part of the population.
Redington said vaccination continues to be the best way to prevent COVID-19. She said the county was working with health care partners, such as Health Ministries, to set up more vaccination clinics as cases jump.
She asked that those who haven’t been vaccinated do so and for friends and family members of the unvaccinated to talk to them about getting the shot.
“If you have a friend who hasn’t, please remind them the severity has gotten worse,” she said. “If you do get it and are unvaccinated, those are the ones ending up in hospitals, many of them. We need folks to step up; do it for your community.”
For Harvey County, and 57.8 percent of eligible residents have received one dose of the vaccine. Fifty-two percent of eligible residents are fully vaccinated. Both numbers rank sixth in the state of Kansas among counties. The county has seen upticks in vaccinations of new residents the last two weeks adding about a percent to its vaccination rate each week.
“The vaccine has been proven very effective,” Redington said. “We have a prevention method that is working. It has reduced the severity of hospitalizations and the deaths we’ve seen in Harvey County, across the state and across the nation.”