Roaring Fork Schools may lift mask mandate Feb. 28, if downward COVID trend holds
Students in the Roaring Fork School District could see the end of mask requirements Feb. 28, after new guidance was issued late last week by both state and local county public health officials.
On Friday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) advised schools to transition at the end of February to a “routine” disease control model for COVID-19, similar to other communicable diseases.
That word came after Pitkin County, one of three counties in which the Roaring Fork District operates, said it would end its indoor mask mandate on Feb. 22. Eagle County lifted its indoor mask rule last month, and Garfield County has not had a countywide mask rule, leaving that up to individual municipalities and schools to decide.
Unless something changes in the next two weeks, or district officials are advised otherwise by their team of local medical and public health experts, it likely means district schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt can expect the district’s own indoor mask rules and other protocols to be relaxed Feb. 28, Superintendent Rob Stein advised in a Friday letter to students and families.
“We are moving into a new phase of the pandemic,” Stein wrote in the letter. “The new approach allows us to discontinue routinely quarantining students and staff members who are exposed to COVID cases and to discontinue universal masking.”
Anna Cole, the district’s chief of student and family services, said Monday that the district still needs to consult with Garfield County Public Health and its medical consultants to get a better understanding of the CDPHE guidance.
“It’s all kind of fluid, so we still want to sort out exactly what that guidance is and make sure we’re holding on to the right things and letting go of the right things when it comes to those different layers of protection,” Cole said.
Stein explained in his Friday letter that the general approach to COVID prevention remains the same from a public health standpoint. He reiterated what he stated during the Feb. 9 school board meeting where several parents again urged the district to end the mask mandate.
“The state continues to recommend a layered approach of best practices,” Stein wrote. “However, due to declining incidence of the disease, increasing hospital and health care system capacity, and rising levels of community immunity, the state is allowing us to reduce many of the layers of prevention that we find so restrictive.”
That includes easing mask requirements, as long as cases continue to decline, as well as lifting the quarantining of students and staff who may have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Still, though, according to the letter, a routine disease control strategy entails:
- Vaccinations as a strong layer of protection for individuals and the community.
- Isolating individuals who are sick.
- Testing and masking following illness and in limited circumstances, such as outbreaks.
- Supporting the use of masks by individuals who wish to use them, even when not required.
- A shift from contact tracing of individual cases to monitoring for case clusters that might need to be investigated and responded to as outbreaks.
The major exception would be in the event of an outbreak, which has been defined by two or more cases being traced to a school or other congregate setting.
In the event of an outbreak or increase in local community spread, some targeted use of quarantining and masking would still be required, Stein said.
Evolving public health guidelines could also be different for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, and in determining what constitutes an outbreak or case cluster or when and how schools should provide testing, he also explained.
For that reason, the district plans to share more information with families and staff through different forums before the changes take effect Feb. 28, said Kelsy Been, public information officer and chief of staff for Roaring Fork Schools.
Teachers and staff members are also being consulted to make sure they fully understand the new guidance, including optional meetings so they can hear from local health experts about the new guidance.
The school board is also expected to receive another update regarding the new guidance and protocols and any other new information at its Feb. 23 meeting, Been said.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or email@example.com.
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