by Kate Evans
Due to the recent surge in the Delta variant of COVID-19, Morgan County Schools students, staff and visitors will wear face masks on buses, in school buildings and in areas where social distancing is limited when new community COVID-19 cases are at a substantial to high level.
The mask mandate came from an August 9 Morgan-Berkeley County Health Department order from Health Officer Dr. Kevin McLaughlin.
In a Wednesday August 18 letter, Morgan County Schools Superintendent Kristen Tuttle explained that Governor Jim Justice directed county school boards to work with local health departments regarding virus reduction and safety procedures.
The Morgan-Berkeley County Health Department is monitoring the county transmission levels of COVID-19 daily and the status of those levels each Friday will determine whether face masks will be required for all students, staff and visitors on Morgan County Schools property for the following week, Tuttle said.
Substantial to high levels
When the local transmission level is ranked in the “substantial” to “high” categories, masks will be required indoors in schools.
When the transmission level is ranked in the “low” or “moderate” categories, masks will be highly recommended indoors by the Health Department, but not required, Tuttle said.
Masks will generally not be required when students and staff are outside.
If requested, Morgan County Schools will provide a mask for any student or staff member.
Morgan County Schools will update the community on their website, school app and Facebook page as soon as they have information on the COVID-19 transmission status each
week that will guide the wearing of face masks.
Lowers risk of exposure
Tuttle noted that “if students and staff are masked, the risk of quarantine and exposure is greatly reduced. This allows for
consistency in education.”
Based on Morgan-Berkeley County Health Department guidelines, exposures requiring quarantine will only occur
when someone is unmasked.
Unmasked, unvaccinated staff and students exposed to COVID-19 would be quarantined for 7-10 days.
“Under the current guidance from the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) and the Berkeley-Morgan County Health Department (BMCHD), masks allow all staff and students to stay in school because there is little risk of exposure.
“Last year’s quarantines, remote learning days and various schedules were not easy on students, staff or parents. We all know the importance of our students being in school every day,” Tuttle said in her letter.
“There are no plans from the WVDE or the BMCHD to close schools. We are all committed to opening schools on time, for a full day and keeping them open,” Tuttle added.
Delta variant rise
Tuttle said that schools had camps and activities all summer without issue, but Delta variant cases had been rising the last few weeks and there had been two local deaths from the virus.
Tuttle acknowledged that everyone wants to be back in the pre-COVID normal and not to have to wear a mask.
But there may be some weeks where masks are needed.
Tuttle encouraged everyone to focus on the positives of the new school year — being back in school for a full day, kids being able to see their friends and teachers, sports being in full swing,. Kids and staff are excited to get back to school.
“We are a family in Morgan County and it takes all of us working together to get through the challenges and make things okay for our children,” Tuttle said.
Tuttle said that she and her staff are ready to get to work and are going to focus on kids and education.
Other school COVID-19 and cold/virus prevention strategies besides face masks that will be in effect in schools are:
— cleaning and disinfecting
— social distancing
— frequent hand-washing
— staying home when sick
–keeping students in core groups
— covering mouths and noses when sneezing and coughing
— avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth and
— using hand sanitizer.
Large gatherings outside of the classroom will be limited.
Contact tracing through the Health Department will occur when there has been a COVID-19 exposure.
Vaccinations and proper masking are the best ways to prevent classroom and school-wide quarantine closures from COVID-19, school officials noted in the document.