On Tuesday, as Carroll County’s school board president testified in support of lifting the mask mandate in public schools starting in January, the acting county health officer submitted a letter to the Maryland State Board of Education stating why the mandate should remain.
Public testimony at the state board meeting included statements from four board presidents, Marsha Herbert, Carroll’s president, among them. State board members are expected next month to make a decision about whether to change the mask mandate.
Tuesday’s meeting was held about one week after Carroll’s school board sent a resolution to the state calling for the mask mandate be rescinded. Reasons included that vaccines are now available for school-age children (5 years and older) and in the cold weather months outdoor mask breaks are fewer.
School board presidents from Charles, Baltimore and Washington counties also spoke at the meeting, all in support of keeping mask mandates in schools at this time. Herbert’s opinion differed.
“All of our counties are so very different,” Herbert said. “One size does not fit all.”
She said masking and vaccines should be a choice. She recommended that the mask mandate should be lifted Jan. 3, reasoning that those who want the vaccine should be able to receive it by that time.
Herbert also questioned why masks must be worn in certain situations, such as by those working at central office, teachers at the end of the school day, maintenance workers mowing lawns or attendees of indoor sporting events.
Susan Doyle, acting Carroll health officer, offered an opposing opinion to Herbert’s in a letter directed to state officials: “The Carroll County Health Department would like to express our strong opinion that now is not the time to stop masking in Carroll County Public Schools,” the letter stated.
It lists six reasons why: the county is in the high level of transmission and among the 10 highest counties in Maryland for transmission of COVID-19; cases are increasing in schools again with outbreaks increasing in size, children aged 5 to 11 have only just started vaccinations; holiday get-togethers can lead to an increased opportunity for spreading the virus; people will spend more time indoors while temperatures drop and the county has no indoor mask mandate; and mask wearing in a classroom can help avoid quarantining.
The letter requested that the state board consider linking a mask mandate to local transmission rates. When a county reaches low-moderate levels of transmission for at least two weeks, schools in that county could allow for optional masking; but if transmission rises to substantial or high for two weeks, masking would be mandatory, Doyle suggested in the letter.
“This allows local control, as the behaviors of local residents and the guidance and actions of the school systems have a direct impact on transmission rates,” she stated in the letter. “It also allows for the reasonable use of data and health information to guide our actions and protect our vulnerable citizens, conserve our health care resources and prevent increased disruption of in-person schooling by limiting illness and quarantining.”