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Local pediatrician weighs in on schools getting rid of masking requirements

Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 10:48 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - As the number of cases, hospitalizations and community transmission declines in our area, school districts are rethinking their masking policies.

The most recent is the Bryan County School District. The district says it plans to transition to a “mask optional” plan after fall break next week.

As of Wednesday, Bryan County’s community transmission index is sitting at 480 confirmed cases per 100,000 residents. That’s much lower than it was over a month ago. In Chatham County, the community transmission index is sitting at 363 cases per 100,000 residents.

Counties across the Coastal Empire are seeing the lowest numbers of hospitalizations , community transmission rates, and positive COVID cases in weeks. Dr. Ben Spitalnick with Pediatric Associates of Savannah says while that’s great to hear, schools aren’t out of the woods just yet.

“In terms of taking off masks, I’d say not yet,” said Dr. Ben Spitalnick.

The Bryan County School District says positive cases among students and staff are decreasing, leading them to move to an optional masking requirement. Dr. Spitalnick says school systems should wait until a vaccine is approved for kids 5 to 11 and wait for an even lower community transmission index before taking masks off.

“I think if you’re looking to make masks optional in schools, I think that’s the goal soon but not yet,” said Dr. Spitalnick. “Get through the next month, get the immunizations started, watch the transmission index drop below 100, if not farther and then consider it.”

He believes a combination of vaccinations, social distancing, wearing masks and seasonal infection have helped bring case numbers down in communities. But adds the benefits of masks in schools are huge.

“Eventually, we need to take our masks off,” said Dr. Spitalnick. “Eventually we will catch things again but at least for now, in the face of coronavirus it significantly reduces transmission, it significantly protects our children and it increases their chances to stay in school and that’s what we need the most. We don’t need kids missing 10 days every few weeks because of quarantines, because of exposures. We need them staying in school.”

Dr. Spitalnick says last year cases of the flu and RSV were down. The Bryan County School District says they plan to review data and follow up at the end of the first nine weeks of school. That’s this Friday. If their current masking requirement does move to an optional one, they say they will continue their current quarantine procedures

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