By Olivia Anderson | [email protected]
The Alexandria School Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to require that everyone wear a mask inside all Alexandria City Public Schools facilities and vehicles this upcoming school year, regardless of vaccination status.
According to staff, several factors contributed to the universal masking recommendation. COVID-19 transmission numbers are increasing within Alexandria and, additionally, staff said the new Delta variant spreads “more easily” among children and adolescents and may result in “more severe” illnesses.
Also, according to ACPS Chief of Student Services and Equity Julie Crawford, ACPS does not collect health information on a personally identifiable level to monitor the vaccine status of students and staff.
“In trying to figure out who should have a mask on and who shouldn’t, we don’t have a system to monitor that,” Crawford said. “The difficulty in monitoring and enforcing mask policies for some students having to wear and not others when we’re talking about maximizing safety, that would obviously be challenging.”
Crawford said another consideration is that, in the fall, schools will be going back to five days a week at maximum capacity without physical distancing.
“When we’re not able to do that distancing, the importance of the other mitigating measures really kicks it up a notch,” Crawford said.
Alexandria Health Department Acting Director Dr. Anne Gaddy clarified that, according to the CDC, masked children who are outside of a three-foot radius from someone with COVID-19 are not considered in “close contact.” Gaddy said this applies to students, not other adults.
“If we discover there is a case, we’d be looking at a three-foot radius around that case to determine who needs to be quarantined if they themselves are not vaccinated,” Gaddy said.
Hutchings said that communications with families will start going out two weeks prior to school starting on Aug. 24. This roll-out process will include a back-to-school edition of the ACPS Express Insider newsletter with information about mask requirements, school updates and an FAQ.
Starting Aug. 24, mitigation measures will also include daily online health screening, temperature screenings in school entrances, continued enhanced cleaning and limitations on the number of visitors in school buildings.
ACPS will continue to monitor health metrics and will reassess masking guidance from federal, state and local health officials later in the school year.