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Local infectious disease expert weighs in on mask mandated vs. mask optional schools

As more students in Alabama head back to the classroom, many are wondering how schools will...
As more students in Alabama head back to the classroom, many are wondering how schools will handle potential COVID exposures, especially depending on which mask policy they’ve adopted.(WBRC)
Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 7:16 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - As more students in Alabama head back to the classroom, many are wondering how schools will handle potential COVID exposures, especially depending on which mask policy they’ve adopted.

Obviously, the difference between mask mandated and mask optional schools boils down to giving families the choice to send their kids to school with or without a mask.

But one local doctor said this isn’t the time to experiment.

“The best practice is undoubtedly to have mandatory masking in schools.”

Co-Director of UAB & Children’s of Alabama’s Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Dr. David Kimberlin, not mincing words as he talked about how to keep children safe from the Delta variant, especially as they return to school.

“This is something that I really beg those school districts that have not yet required mandatory masking, I beg them to listen to the uniformity of voice here. Mandatory, universal masking in schools is our best way into and through what is immediately in front of us,” Dr. Kimberlin said.

He anticipates there will still be cases of COVID in schools even with mask mandates.

That’s because the Delta variant is highly transmissible.

“Look up in Missouri, look over in North Carolina, look in Mississippi, these are schools that opened with optional masking and within two to five days were closing classes. It makes the most sense to mask from the beginning. Why let it get bad and then react to that? Why not do something to try to keep it from getting bad in the first place?” Dr. Kimberlin asked.

Each school system has its own plan for handling COVID outbreaks.

Dr. Kimberlin said it’s not a matter of if, but when those cases happen.

He said schools should plan to do aggressive contact tracing and testing.

“For those that are unvaccinated, and that would include everybody under 12, that will mean quarantine again in order to try to contain the virus spread. This Delta variant is a different, a different type of virus than what we faced last year and think how bad it was then. It’s going to be worse now,” Dr. Kimberlin explained.

He still recommends all children return to the classroom regardless of their school’s mask policy saying remote learning is inferior to face-to-face instruction.

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