Citing data from August and the first 3 days of September for new Covid-19 infections of Fayette County residents, the county school system administration has extended the facial covering mandate for all students and staff of the system from Sept. 17 through the week of Oct. 25.
The system’s letter to parents acknowledged that cases within schools have “greatly decreased” but that cases outside the confines of the system’s 24 schools have not followed the same downward trend.
As a result, the system letter said, “it is best for the health of our students and employees that the system-wide face covering mandate remains in place for the time being. The task force will reevaluate the status of the mandate the week of October 25; notification will follow as soon as a decision is made.”
The 2-week Covid infection rate as of Sept. 14 was 7.6%, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. That means that for every 100 tests administered, just under 8 tests were positive for the presence of the virus.
According to DPH, the number of cases per 100,000 in Fayette County over the past two weeks was 563. See the graphic above and below. Divide 563 by 100,000 to get 0.005, or one-half percent.
Questions from The Citizen to the school system (emailed Sept. 14):
Previously the system announced a specific data point — 1% — that would trigger system reevaluation of the mask mandate, strongly implying that reaching that data point likely would result in going back to optional masking.
1. Is the system new case load for two consecutive weeks below that 1% mark today. (The weekly system Covid report seems to show figures under 1% of the entire system — am I in error on this? If so, what is the exact number and percentage of new cases in the last two weeks?
2. The letter sent to parents Sept. 10 by “the Fayette County School System” doesn’t mention the criteria described above. Why not?
3. The system seems to have abandoned the 1% trigger point in favor of a non-specific “best for our students and employees” with no specific criteria except what somebody determines is “best” for thousands of people. Is that going to be the “criteria” going forward — what seems best to somebody, with no metrics, no end point laid out in advance?
4. Who — specifically, by name and position — is calling the shots on this departure from the previous very specific policy? Who is the Covid-19 Task Force member?
5. What is the current policy goal to allow the public to determine when it has been achieved? What goal — including intermediate points — has the task force set, short of the absolute absence of any Covid-19 infections in Fayette County? The 1% policy had the advantage of being both measurable, and unambiguous. What new measurable and unambiguous set of data will be the trigger points for lifting the mask mandate?
6. The Friday email to parents contained a constrained announcement of an important news event. Why hasn’t there been a news release or notification to media? Yes, parents were notified, but the system has a larger constituency — the voters and taxpayers — that also deserves to be notified. Who made the decision to not notify the general public, other than the parents?
8. Is the Board of Education involved with the decision to mask? Was BoE or a majority of its members involved in extending the mask mandate?
Here is the school system’s response from Public Information Officer Melinda Berry-Dreisbach on Sept. 14:
Cal: You are correct that our schools are under 1% with positive Covid-19 cases. We fell below the 1% mark after we implemented the system wide face covering mandate.
However, we did mention that the mandate required that our school system be below 1% for at least two consecutive weeks.
However, we also stated the requirement that the county positivity rate should be below 1% for two consecutive week. That has not occurred.
Piedmont Fayette Hospital has positive Covid-19 patients at its full capacity. The Georgia Department of Public Health District 4 Covid-19 Operational Summary released last Friday shows that Fayette is in “substantial community spread.” The 14-day incident rate has increased 36%. [EDITOR’S NOTE: The period referenced by the District 4 release are the periods from Aug. 7–20 and Aug. 21–Sept. 3.] For your convenience, I have attached the report in this email.
Our schools reflect what happens in the community. We would most likely have to reinstate the mandate within a few weeks if we removed the mandate now. We want to avoid going back and forth with a mandate, so we will reevaluate at the end of October, looking at both the county’s postive case numbers and the school system’s.
It is our responsibility as educators to ensure that our students and staff are safe in our buildings. The face covering mandate is a mitigation effort that we are using to help protect our students and staff from contracting the virus.
It is also allowing “close contact” students to remain in school. The Georgia Department of Public Health allows for a modified quarantine where persons exposed to a positive individual at school can remain in school as long as they and the positive person was wearing a face covering, and provided the close contact does not develop Covid-19 symptoms.
Even though home quarantining is possible with synchronous education, the majority of our parents choose the modified quarantine option. Our goal is to keep our schools open, and students in school; the face covering mandate is helping us achieve that goal.
Our Covid-19 Task Force is made up of myself, [Superintendent] Dr. [Jonathan] Patterson, our school nurse coordinator (two right now as one is retiring in November and the other is her replacement), a principal and assistant principal (two different schools), assistant superintendents and directors. We have representation for both men and women, as well as minorities.
We are in constant communication with the District 4 health department and the hospital about what is happening in our area, and to seek advice when necessary. The task force provides feedback and input for Dr. Patterson and makes recommendations. The decision is ultimately Dr. Patterson’s. The Fayette County Board has not yet taken up the matter.
As you know, I send local newspapers any correspondence that is not sent to parents. I forgot to send Friday’s notification to the county’s newspapers, I apologize. It was not intended.
Here’s the email sent to parents of Fayette students:
September 10, 2021
Dear Parents and Guardians:
We have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of positive Covid-19 cases in our schools since implementing the system-wide face covering mandate on August 24. Also important to note is the significant decline in the number of students who are home quarantining because they were a close contact to someone at school who tested positive for the virus.
Having a system-wide face covering mandate in place for all students and employees has allowed us to use the Georgia Department of Public Health’s modified quarantine where close contacts can continue to come to school as long as they and the positive individual were wearing face coverings, and they are not exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms.
Parents have chosen this option over home quarantining, even though synchronous learning is still available during the quarantine period.
Although the number of positive cases has decreased in schools, it is still not the same for our community.
For these reasons, our Covid-19 Task Force believes it is best for the health of our students and employees that the system-wide face covering mandate remains in place for the time being. The mandate status will be reviewed by the task force on October 25th. Notification will follow once a decision has been made.
The task force will continue to monitor cases in the community and schools. When the mandate is removed, you will be notified again by the school system.
We appreciate your cooperation in this effort. The face covering mandate is helping us keep our students in school and our employees working. We know that students learn best when teachers are present. The mandate has allowed for us to continue teaching and learning.
We thank you again for your continued support.
Fayette County Public Schools