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Delta variant could reignite mask mandate debate when schools reopen next month

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MIAMI – The spread of the highly contagious Delta variant and reports of fully vaccinated individuals testing positive for COVID-19, paired with there being no vaccine currently available for children younger than 12, places back into focus a question of whether masks should be required for in-person instruction when classes resume next month.

In a statement, Broward County Public Schools told Local 10 News they continue to “work closely with federal and local health experts on all guidance related to school safety COVID-19 protocols” and will discuss plans for the upcoming school year during a School Board Workshop scheduled for July 27.

A district spokesperson said Face Covering Policy 2170 remains in place, which requires a face covering with exceptions that include “individuals with medical certification.”

Miami-Dade County Public School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told Local 10 that the current announced plan for a mask optional protocol in all schools for all ages for the upcoming school year remains in place.

Gelpi De Luz, 31, does not have kids but said she was outside the Miami-Dade School Board Administration Building Wednesday afternoon while a school board meeting was underway to demonstrate against mask mandates. (WPLG)

He said that decision, which was announced weeks ago, was made based on conditions at the time, which included those 12 years of age and over having access to the COVID-19 vaccine and lower positivity rates. He said they will continue to monitor the “evolution” of COVID-19 variants and consult with the district’s public health task force members.

“We continue to monitor conditions, particularly the impact of the Delta variant,” Carvalho said Wednesday, “I’ve said all along we are a system that’s driven by scientific information, medical evidence, and public health advice. That’s why we have a distinguished task force of experts that advise our school system in terms of the protocols we follow and the procedures and processes that we adopt.”

He also said that if there are parents who had planned to have their child who is 12 or over start the upcoming school year fully vaccinated, now is the time to start that process given the 3-4 week window of time between first and second doses.

[ALSO SEE: Kids and COVID-19 vaccinations? Here’s what some parents say]

CDC updates guidance for kids at school

On Friday, the CDC updated its guidance for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools, saying that “masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated…especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.”

The guidance also emphasized “the need for localities to monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the level of layered prevention strategies.”

There are currently no vaccines on the market for students under 12.

In a statement to Local 10 News, Karla Hernández-Mats, president United Teachers of Dade, said “as we see the Delta variant on the rise, we continue to encourage those who can to get fully vaccinated before school begins and whenever possible, to provide masks for children under 12 who have not yet had access to the vaccine.”

A recent Education Week article exploring the impact the Delta variant could have on the re-opening plans for K-12 schools stated: “The Delta variant’s higher transmissibility means that district leaders will need to keep a closer eye on infection rates in both the community and on campus, because outbreaks in either place can balloon much more rapidly.”

Number of kids catching COVID on rise

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, ”since the pandemic began, children represented 14.2% of total cumulated cases. For the week ending July 8, children were 22.3% of reported weekly COVID-19 cases.”

Dr. Drew Stoudt of Gables Pediatrics said that as older people are getting vaccinated, the percentage of pediatric infectious are rising.

In Florida, it is currently unclear how many kids with COVID were sick enough to require a hospital stay. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, as of June 24, Florida “stopped reporting child hospitalizations.”

[ALSO SEE: CHILDREN & COVID STATE DATA REPORT: A joint report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association]

Troubling new case trend

At South Florida hospitals, cases have almost doubled in the past two to three weeks. Doctors say they expect cases to continue to rise and have yet to see the effects of July 4 gatherings.

This comes as fully vaccinated Miami-Dade County residents say that they have tested positive for COVID-19. This includes Miami-Dade Commissioners Joe Martinez and Jose “Pepe” Diaz and Diaz’s chief of staff Isidoro Lopez. It is unclear if they contracted the more contagious Delta variant.

Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert with Florida International University, said those who are vaccinated should still remain cautious. She said COVID-19 vaccines are effective, but there are some people who while fully vaccinated will still get sick.


About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."