Masking up in Kentucky schools was mandated by Gov. Andy Beshear on Tuesday as the fast-spreading delta variant causes waves of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
The new executive action requiring indoor mask wearing applies to K-12 Kentucky schools, regardless of vaccination status for COVID-19, the Democratic governor said. The requirement also applies to child care and pre-kindergarten programs across Kentucky, he said.
“We are to the point where we cannot allow our kids to go into these buildings unprotected, unvaccinated and face this delta variant,” Beshear said. “We have already seen ... that our kids will not stay in school, they will not get in-person learning. We will have massive quarantines.”
Beshear said he wants to avoid what happened last academic year, when schools shifted to distance learning due to the pandemic. The number of children infected with the virus has risen sharply amid the delta variant outbreak. Children under age 12 aren’t eligible for the coronavirus vaccine. Without requiring masks, they would be defenseless against the virus, the governor said.
“We would be sending them to the deadliest version of a chicken pox party imaginable by sitting them in a classroom every single day without a mask, without being vaccinated, facing the delta variant,” Beshear said at a news conference.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass said mask requirements give Kentucky schools the best chance to safely return to full-time, in-person learning this fall.
At Frankfort Independent Schools, the “small sacrifice and commitment” to wear masks has “opened up the world of opportunities for our students to be successful during in-person school,” said Superintendent Houston Barber. Frankfort Independent has been in school since Aug. 2 and has had no spread of COVID-19 cases during that time, Barber said.
Beshear’s masking order comes as Kentucky struggles with its worst virus surge since the pandemic began. He reported 2,500 new virus cases Tuesday — the highest one-day total since January — and seven virus-related deaths. The state’s test positivity rate surpassed 11 percent. Its virus-related death toll is approaching 7,400 and it surpassed 500,000 COVID-19 cases Monday.
Meanwhile, surging hospitalization rates are “absolutely alarming,” the governor said. Virus-related hospitalizations statewide shot up 43 percent and admissions to intensive care units by 32 percent in the first week of August, said Dr. Steven Stack, the state’s public health commissioner. On Tuesday, 1,251 virus patients were hospitalized in Kentucky, including 339 ICU patients, the state said.
“If we don’t do this right, we don’t do our part, our hospitals get overrun,” Beshear said.
Nine states have banned school districts from setting universal mask mandates. Those bans are in effect in five states. In the remaining four states, mask mandate bans have been blocked, suspended, or are not being enforced. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia require masks be worn in schools.
MASK MANDATE BAN IN EFFECT
- South Carolina
MASK MANDATE BAN BLOCKED, SUSPENDED, OR NOT BEING ENFORCED
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island
*On Sept. 10, a Florida judge reinstated the state’s ban on school mask mandates.
On Sept. 1, an Oklahoma judge temporarily blocked the state law banning school mask mandates, but students or their parents can still opt out of the requirement if they choose.
Tennessee‘s governor has signed an executive order requiring schools to allow families to opt out of mask mandates.
In Utah, local health departments can issue 30-day school mask mandates with approval from the state or county government, according to the state’s top education official.
An Arizona judge ruled the state law banning mask mandates will not go into effect until Sept. 29.
In Arkansas, a judge paused the state law that prohibits local officials from setting mask mandates, meaning school districts can—at least for now—set their own local mask requirements.
On Sept. 13, a federal district court ordered Iowa to immediately halt enforcement of its law banning mask mandates in schools.
The Texas Education Agency said on Aug. 20 that Gov. Abbott’s executive orders banning mask requirements in schools “are not being enforced” amid ongoing legal battles. Meanwhile, the state’s attorney general has sued some districts who are defying the ban.
Last month, the governor recommended that school districts require mask-wearing in schools to minimize the risk of disruptions from the virus. Non-compliance in many districts — plus the rising virus cases and hospitalizations — spurred Beshear to impose the schoolhouse mask mandate.
Asked if he’s confident that local school administrators and teachers will enforce the mandate, Beshear replied: “If they care one lick about their kids, they certainly will.”
Most of the Bluegrass State is in the red zone — signaling a severe level of community spread — while vaccination rates continue to only inch upward.
Beshear had a blunt message for the unvaccinated: “If you hate all the steps that we have to take — you hate wearing a mask — get your shot. If you’re not getting your shot, you’re the reason we might have to put back on a mask. You won’t get your shot, you’re the reason that our kids are having to wear masks in school.”
We would be sending them to the deadliest version of a chicken pox party imaginable by sitting them in a classroom every single day without a mask, without being vaccinated, facing the delta variant.
Beshear said his mask order for schools follows federal guidance and will continue for 30 days. Whether it’s extended will depend on the level of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, he said.
The governor didn’t rule out expanding the mask mandate if the situation worsens.
“We’re going to continue to look at this surge in making decisions about what’s next,” he said. “Certainly, we won’t be afraid, if necessary, to institute a statewide mask mandate for those indoors, outside of the home.”
The governor vowed that the state’s economy “is going to stay open.” Beshear ended most pandemic-related restrictions in June. He has trumpeted the state’s economic resurgence in recent months while attending a series of jobs announcements.
“I’m committed to no shutdowns,” he said. “I’m committed to not having to roll back capacity.”
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.