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Should Omaha-metro schools mask up?

OPS families currently have the choice, but UNMC’s Dr. James Lawler says not doing so is ‘throwing gasoline on the fire.’
Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 3:01 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The delta variant of COVID-19 is spreading through our community at the same time many students are preparing to return to the classroom.

Many parents have many different opinions about whether students should wear masks when they return to school, as do some area school districts.

Dr. Cheryl Logan, superintendent of Omaha Public Schools, said Wednesday that she doesn’t expect educating students alongside COVID-19 this school year to be as difficult as previous years.

“We’re now in year three of managing through a pandemic, and certainly each day has a challenge, and we’re up to the challenge,” she said.

School districts in the Omaha-metro and around the state are making some tough choices, deciding whether or not to require masks.

Earlier this week, Westside Community Schools also decided to require masks indoors for students who are too young to be vaccinated against the virus.

A Ralston Public Schools plan updated Thursday says masks will be required indoors for elementary schools, with staff having the option to mask, regardless of vaccination status, but staff will have the option to mask or not when they’re not around students. All students of any grade level, however, will have to wear masks while riding on school district transportation, and middle and high school teachers will have to track which students are wearing masks in case of a reported exposure down the road.

But there are parents who want to decide for themselves whether their children should wear masks to school. Right now, OPS parents have that choice: masks are optional.

But could that change?

“Right now, we continue to monitor developments, and everything is evolving,” Dr. Logan said.

On Thursday, Dr. James Lawler, co-executive director of the Global Center for Health Security at UNMC told reporters that the delta variant continues to grow — and that opening schools without facemasks and other “non-pharmaceutical interventions” is not the way to go.

“We’re going to be throwing gasoline on the fire at that point,” he said. “We’re going to see much more rates of transmission, unfortunately, the way things are going. That translates into increased hospitalizations, increased ICU admissions, and we’re going to see increased deaths.”

Experts have monitoring trends elsewhere in hopes of preventing the same thing from happening here.

“We know that in the UK, kids and schools drove transmissions of the delta wave quite significantly,” Dr. Lawler said.

Dr. Logan said students will return to OPS classrooms in about 12 days. In that time, there could be more tough choices to make.

“Right now, we are going to continue to follow the recommendations of our health partners, and we look forward to sharing more in the days ahead,” she said.

Dr. Lawler said he believes the COVID-19 delta variant could continue to grow here for a least the next three to four weeks.

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