With the start of the 2021-2022 school year just weeks away, the spread of the Delta variant and lagging vaccination rates have reignited conversations about the potential for tighter COVID-19 restrictions at school.
The Kentucky Department of Education released recommendations this month recommending school districts follow the latest CDC guidelines.
In the document detailing the guidance, the Kentucky Department for Public Health recommended that people who are unvaccinated wear masks "while indoors in all classroom and non-classroom settings, unless otherwise exempted."
Other recommendations include the requirement of masks on public transportation, "including buses operated by public and private school systems."
As for other health protocols, state leaders are encouraging physical distancing of at least three feet "between K-12 students in classrooms where not everyone is fully vaccinated."
LEX 18 reached out to Dr. Elizabeth Hawse, M.D., of Commonwealth Pediatrics in Lexington, to weigh in on the prospect of tighter restrictions in the classroom. She explained that until vaccination rates increase, health protocols like wearing masks should be followed.
"We get into whether this is political or whether this is people who want to wear a mask versus people who don't want to wear a mask," Dr. Hawse lamented. "What I don't like is people dying preventable deaths."
Dr. Hawse said that students under 12 should be wearing masks during the school day, citing their inability to be vaccinated.
"The virus is still circulating," Dr. Hawse said. "Right now, a large number of those susceptible hosts are the unvaccinated kids from birth to 12 for whom this pandemic has not changed at all."
Dr. Hawse cited the "Swiss cheese model" to explain the efforts to slow the spread, including physical distancing, masking, staying home when you're sick, and other mitigation strategies.
Like Swiss cheese, Dr. Hawes explained, each mitigation strategy has holes in it. When the cheese is stacked together, though, you can see fewer and fewer holes.
"So the thought is, between social distancing, masking, staying home when you're sick and not going to work, and getting vaccinated, you cover a lot of those holes," Dr. Hawse said.