New Douglas County Health Department could let students throw away their masks at school

The new Douglas County Health Department, less than a month old, is expected to issue its first public health order on Friday – to allow parents to exempt their children from the school district’s controversial mask mandate.

The ordinance, which also raises the threshold for what would trigger a quarantine in the classroom, is the culmination of weeks of recriminations between county leaders and public health and school officials over the measures to mitigating COVID-19 in schools, a fight that led Douglas last month. County to end a 55-year partnership with the Tri-County Health Department.

The directive, which was still being drafted Thursday evening, will be discussed at the second Douglas County Board of Health meeting, scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday. Douglas County Commissioner George Teal confirmed the substance of the health order to the Denver Post even though details were not available.

The new agency, which was formed just two weeks after Tri-County made an order for masks on September 1 for all students ages 2 and up, didn’t even have time to choose an executive director or launch programs.

But mask warrants for students – those 17 and under in Douglas County have seen only one death from COVID-19 since the pandemic began 19 months ago – were too much for many parents in this conservative county south of Denver. Castle Rock mother of four Teegan Braun withdrew her children from the Douglas County School District last year due to the mask requirement.

“What we are asking for is choice – and choice alone,” she said. “We have one (pediatric) death throughout the pandemic, and the number of cases does not support what is happening. Our parental authority is not respected.

Douglas County this week recorded nearly 180 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 population over a cumulative seven-day period, a rate that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies as high community spread and that triggers its guidelines for masking. It topped Arapahoe and Adams counties, the other two members of Tri-County, in the incidence rate of COVID-19.

JB Poplawski, a father-of-two who lives in Parker, said Douglas County was “following the policy” of seceding from the Tri-County Health Department and rescinding the mask order. With the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment all recommending universal indoor masking for teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, science is clear, he said.

“It’s not ideal when your local health department, which has no experience, goes against the CDC, AAP and CDPHE,” Poplawski said. “Not masking increases the likelihood that our children will be sent home for distance learning. “

In a letter the Douglas County School District sent to parents on October 1, he said that even if the county was no longer under the Tri-County masquerade order, the district would continue to “demand port of face coverings inside all school buildings “.

“Our goal continues to be to keep our students and staff in the classroom while navigating the complexities of COVID,” the letter reads. “This includes reducing quarantines and working to avoid school closures and / or transitions to distance learning.”

Last month, the state’s top epidemiologist said students in Colorado school districts who have refused to institute mask warrants are infected with COVID-19 at higher rates than in districts that have requirements of face cover.

Coronavirus cases in school-aged children aged 6 to 17 hover around 300 cases per 100,000 people in school districts who do not need masks, while that number is closer to 250 per 100 000 in districts that require masks, according to state health data.

But Teal, one of two county commissioners on the new board of health, said the raw number of COVID-19 cases should not be the trigger to mask an age group that is largely untouched by the devastation. respiratory disease.

“We have always insisted that severity should be the measure of public health response,” Teal said.

National and state data clearly shows that COVID-19 is a disease that targets overwhelmingly the elderly and the sick. Deaths from COVID-19 among those 18 and under in the United States – 587 on Wednesday – represent only a tiny fraction of the more than 700,000 Americans who have died from the disease since early 2020, according to the CDC.

Closer to home, the CDPHE has counted 16 deaths from COVID-19 among those 17 and under in Colorado for the entire pandemic – that is, out of nearly 8,000 total deaths due to COVID-19 in the state. And of the more than 900 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the week of September 19 in Colorado, the most recent week for which data is available, only 24 were children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, in a recent update online, said that “it appears that severe illness from COVID-19 is rare in children.”

“This recognizes the realities of the continuing COVID health crisis as possibly endemic with a level of severity that is mitigated by widespread immunization of all eligible age groups,” Teal said. “And the data we’ve seen in 19 months shows low severity impacts in Douglas County. “

Currently, 78% of eligible Douglas County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, rising to 98.7% for the particularly sensitive 65 and over cohort. An additional 38,000 people in the county have been infected, giving them natural immunity to the virus.

Castle Rock’s mother Braun said that with all of this data indicating a low risk of illness and death for schoolchildren from COVID-19, the benefits of masks as a mitigation tool must be balanced with the impact of face coverings on children’s mental health and the ability to learn properly.

“Your learning cues, your socio-emotional cues, your developmental milestones that kids miss when half of their face is covered,” she said. “When we make decisions about hiding students and quarantining who is hospitalized and who is dying? Do children get sick? Absoutely. Are they recovering? Absoutely.”

In guidelines the World Health Organization released last year regarding children and masks, the agency concluded that children 5 and under “should not wear masks for source control.” . For ages 6 to 11, the WHO said mask use should be tempered by a number of factors, including “the potential impact of mask wearing on learning and psychosocial development.”

These guidelines were published before the delta variant, which is a much more contagious version of the virus, began to spread around the world.

Kevin DiPasquale, president of the Douglas County Federation, said his teachers’ union supported the full cover-up at the school. Children under 12 have not been approved for a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Schools are recommended to require masks to keep schools open without interruption,” he said. “We support masks to keep all students in school full time, especially since there is no vaccine available for all ages.”

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