With COVID-19 cases again on the rise, Miami-Dade school district leaders will soon meet and consult with local health officials to reconsider mask policies, among other precautionary measures, in public schools.
Miami-Dade Public Schools announced in May that masks would be optional for students, faculty and staff once school restarts Aug. 23.
Since then, the highly infectious delta variant of the virus has taken hold in the U.S. and caused a spike in cases and hospitalizations, including a 10% positivity rate in Miami-Dade — the highest it has been since January — and a fourfold increase in hospitalizations in county-run health facilities.
School officials seem to have taken notice.
In a Thursday news alert, the school district cited “significantly shifting conditions” in the community, the “disproportionate impact” of the delta variant, the fact that vaccines remain unavailable to children under 12, “atypical” hospitalizations of healthy and younger individuals who catch the virus, and updated recommendations of universal mask-wearing in schools from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as reasons for revisiting its masking policy.
School officials will discuss the matter “in the coming days,” the release said.
The district still expects in-person schooling, which the CDC recommends, with guidelines including:
— Mandatory mask-wearing on school buses. (The district encourages masking and social distancing while students wait outdoors for buses, but both will be up to parents to decide.)
— Social distancing in cafeterias and “alternate dining venues,” when possible.
— A health screening room in all schools.
— “Heightened” cleaning and sanitation protocols on buses, school campuses and in district offices. (Frequent handwashing, use of sanitizing stations and similar personal hygiene behavior will be encouraged.)
— Use of air purifiers, ionization systems, upgraded air-conditioning units and other “improved air technology’ measures.
— Increased flow of fresh, outdoor air.
— Running school HVAC systems for two hours before and after school buildings are occupied to maximize outside airflow.
— Quarantine protocols focusing on individuals directly impacted by potential exposures “due to the availability of better science and data,” rather than quarantining entire classes or departments.
“(Miami-Dade Public Schools) strongly encourages all eligible students and employees to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus prior to the start of the new school year,” district personnel wrote. “Our District has a later start date than most other Florida school districts, and we will use this later start date to our advantage as we continue to make decisions that prioritize the health of our students and employees.”
Earlier this week, Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the district was “carefully monitoring the latest developments concerning COVID-19” in order to make the best policy decisions.
“We believe it is prudent to take this conversation back to our task force of medical and public health experts,” he said. “This is an important decision that cannot be rushed and must continue to be evaluated based on the scientific information available.”
The Miami-Dade announcement Thursday comes a day after the Broward County School Board voted unanimously to keep an existing classroom mask mandate in place when school resumes in the county Aug. 18.
School Board members said they’ll reevaluate the decision in early September.
Orange County school district officials also recently indicated they may reconsider a mid-June decision to make masks optional.
Those and any other Florida districts that reverse course on mask-wearing in school are likely to draw the ire of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has contended that masks “muzzle” and cause breathing issues for schoolchildren.
“There’s been talk about people potentially advocating at the federal level imposing compulsory masks on kids. We’re not doing that in Florida. We need our kids to be able to be kids. We need our kids to be able to breathe,” he told reporters July 22.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to start putting our kids first. We’ve got to look out for their education. Is it really comfortable? Is it really healthy for them to be muzzled and have their breathing obstructed every day in school? I don’t think it is.”