800+ New COVID Cases in Ky.; Dept. of Ed. Updates Mask Policy
The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) updated its guidance this week to say that faculty, staff, and students should wear face masks at all times when in school and on buses, except when actively eating or drinking, unless the person has a medical waiver.
The news was released on the same day that Governor Andy Beshear reported another daily COVID-19 positive case number above eight hundred.
Beshear reported 816 newly confirmed cases, bringing the state's total to 49,991 since the pandemic began.
One hundred sixteen of the new cases were from children aged eighteen and younger.
The youngest was two months old.
In updating its guidance, a KDE official noted the sharp increase in daily cases that has plagued Kentucky all summer long. The state requires masks to be worn in most cases while in public.
The updated guidance from KDE comes as weekly positive COVID-19 tests in Kentucky have tripled to quadrupled since the original Healthy at School guidance was issued in June, said Dr. Connie White, DPH deputy commissioner.
“We are just in a different universe than where we were in June when this was first posted,” said White.
Case numbers are likely to rise again when in-person classes resume, she said, but if infection rates fall after that, some restrictions may be loosened. The intent of adding extra layers of protection is to help schools avoid future closures as a result of COVID-19 outbreaks, she said.
Beshear called Wednesday's daily positive case count "a tough report all around." The governor noted thirty-six deaths in the state in just the past three days.
"That’s what happens when we have the number of cases that we currently have in Kentucky. Let’s make sure that we’re doing better and working even harder,” Beshear said.
Eighteen of those deaths were reported on Wednesday across the state, though none were reported in the four-county region overseen by the Northern Kentucky Health Department. There have been six deaths reported locally this week, the NKY Health Department noted on Monday and Tuesday.
The Northern Kentucky region saw 31 newly confirmed cases on Wednesday, bringing its total to 3,821 since the pandemic began.
The mask mandate statewide was meant to bring the rising case count number to a plateau and then a decline. The numbers have been mostly steady, though higher than earlier in the pandemic, since July.
KDE offered guidance on how to deal with students who may refuse to wear a mask. Schools should set examples, try persuasion and other techniques before using disciplinary measures, Interim Commission of Education Kevin C. Brown said.
“We think obviously that should be the last resort,” he said.
The change is an official expectation, not an optional best practice Brown said. The state now has a mandate for mask-wearing in public, and KDE officials made clear from the start that Healthy at School guidance could change depending on the situation, he said. For now, masks are the cheapest and most effective method for mitigating the spread of COVID-19, Brown said.
The change is an official expectation, not an optional best practice Brown said.
If infection rates don’t decrease by the time most schools resume in-person classes on Sept. 28, further mitigation measures may be necessary, he said.
Fabric masks should be at least two-ply, and neck gaiters are acceptable if they have two layers, White said. Medical-grade or N95 masks aren’t necessary for the general public, and cloth masks are far more comfortable, she said.
Students can sit closer than 6 feet apart on buses going to and from school, as long as they all remain masked and the bus is loaded from back to front, said Kay Kennedy, education consultant in KDE’s Office of Finance and Operations. Passengers from the same household may sit together.
Given limited time and supply of buses and drivers, some leeway was necessary, she said.
But for traveling to sporting events or other extracurricular activities, when students are likely to ride longer and more buses should be free, students should adhere to distancing guidelines, Kennedy said.