AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) — As CSRA school districts prepare for the upcoming school year, whether students should be required to wear masks when they return to campus is at the forefront of discussions.
The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all students, ages two and older, wear masks at school even if they are vaccinated. The recommendation comes as COVID-19 cases rise across the country, including in Georgia and South Carolina.
“It’s because of the Delta variant,” Dr. Rodger MacArthur, an infectious diseases physician at the Medical College of Georgia, says. “We don’t know how severe it’s going to be, especially in younger children. We don’t know how widespread it’s going to be either.”
Masks remain optional in Richmond and Columbia County schools but will be required on buses when the school year begins in August.
“I urge parents to be smart about this,” Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis says. “If you want your kids to go back into the classroom, then you should take every opportunity to get them vaccinated if they are at that age.”
“We were very successful last year, so we’re going to follow that again this year,” Dr. Steven Flynt, the Superintendent of the Columbia County School System, says.
Columbia County Superintendent Dr. Steven Flynt points to “low” case numbers in the community for why masks will not be required. He says the district will reconsider its plans if those numbers rise.
“If needed, we’ll adjust those strategies,” Flynt says.
Across the river in South Carolina, school districts are prohibited from requiring masks on school property, including buses, according to the state’s 2021-22 Appropriations Bill. But infectious diseases experts, including Dr. Rodger MacArthur, urge parents to have their children wear mask regardless of school policy.
“I think we can all agree that sending kids back to in-person learning is the desirable goal,” MacArthur says. “But, we have to do it safely. At least for now until more kids are vaccinated, I think the safest way of doing it, especially for those under the age of 12, is to voluntarily wear masks while they are indoors.”