BOURBON COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — The rise in coronavirus cases has some parents concerned for the upcoming school year.
The largest school district in the state, Jefferson County has decided to require universal masking. It's a move many districts are choosing not to make a requirement, while others haven't made a decision yet.
The chairs are empty at Bourbon County Preschool Head Start, but pretty soon that silence will turn into more than 100 little voices.
Registered nurse Deanna Berry has overseen keeping thousands of students in Bourbon County safe during the pandemic as District Health Coordinator.
"COVID takes up a lot of time,” said Berry. “It's one call after you know, another at least hourly about ‘hey, what about this kid? What about this case? What about the staff member?"
But this year, Berry is feeling even more confident about handling COVID in their schools and more confident with the decisions they're making to take a little focus off of COVID-19.
Even though the district will continue to offer free testing and cleaning procedures, they’ve decided not to mandate masking.
"We have no plans to get together and change anything on that,” said Berry.
She said they will have families who chose to wear masks.
Berry says the last time the district had a COVID surge was in November 2021. They started to shift their protocols last spring, taking down social-distancing barriers toward the end of the year.
"I think they're gonna be really excited to be able to continue that this year," said Berry.
But there are so many districts that haven't decided yet. To find out why LEX 18 turned to Kentucky School Board Association.
“I think a lot of what we've learned so far from the pandemic is trying to plan a month out two weeks out even a week in advance can be a challenge when circumstances in a community can change week to week in and day to day,” explained Director of Communications Josh Shoulta.
Shoulta says a lot of districts won't finalize plans until just before their start date. He says parents should expect a shift in focus.
“We've been so diligent about COVID Over the last few years, and sometimes when you spend so much time and you put so much effort and you ask so much of families during that time, patients can work with them and the desire to get back to education as one as we once knew. It is at kind of an all-time high,” said Shoulta.
Dr. Sean McTigue is Interim Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases for Kentucky Children’s in Lexington. He says schools have realized they aren't the super-spreaders many feared they would be. Over time data showed children weren't getting as sick from the virus as other populations (COVID-19 in babies and children - Mayo Clinic).
"I think the overall level of concern regarding COVID should certainly be much lower now than it was earlier in the pandemic. What we've been seeing, especially with regards to children, we see very low hospitalizations now for COVID. At most times, we have zero children, and it's a children's hospital or for COVID-19,” said McTigue.
He says immunity thanks to vaccinations have also helped and now all school-age children have access to them.
“We would certainly love for the vaccine vaccination rates to be 100% of all eligible children. Well, we know that the effectiveness of a vaccine against current variants as far as preventing any form of infection, whether that's asymptomatic or mild infection, is no longer as robust as it was earlier in the pandemic. We're talking about circulating strains. What is still apparent is that vaccines are very effective at preventing severe complications. They're effective at the hospital, certainly very effective as an ICU ventilator and therefore they're still very important,” said McTigue.
Fayette County Public Schools has not decided about masking for the coming school year yet. However, the current policy is “Either Way is OK”.
Several schools told us they would not be updating or publishing a public COVID-19 dashboard this year.
The Kentucky Department for Public Health is providing COVID-19 antigen tests free of charge to Kentucky’s K-12 schools in the 2022-2023 school year. This program is possible through a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to promote safe in-person learning. The program relies upon federal support, and it is not yet clear if support will be sufficient to maintain the program for the entire academic year.