Gwinnett County Public Schools announced on Wednesday that it will switch to a complex new face mask policy that will fluctuate based on transmission levels for COVID-19 in the second semester, which begins in January.
The shift means the district could go back and forth during the second semester on requiring masks. Other districts in metro Atlanta have switched to a “masks are optional” system as the Delta variant wave of the disease has faded.
“When the decision was made to implement the mask mandate in July, primary considerations were the high transmission rates in the community and the fact that our students were ineligible for the vaccine,” Superintendent Calvin Watts said.
“Since then, much progress has been made in terms of decreasing transmission rates of COVID-19 in our community and vaccinations are now available for individuals ages 5 and older. While I believe our GCPS mask requirement has helped us and our community to mitigate the spread of COVID, conditions have changed and we are at a point where we can and should revisit mask guidance.”
The new policy, which goes into effect in January, is that masks will be optional in schools when community transmission has been “moderate” or less over a period of at least two weeks. Masks will be required in schools when transmission is classified as “substantial” or “high.”
The district will post information on SchoolMessenger, and on the district’s website, on Jan. 3 to let parents and employees know what the community transmission level and mask rules for that week will be.
One thing parents need to keep in mind is that masks will still be required on school buses in the spring, however, regardless of what the transmission levels are, according to the district.
The community transmission classifications will be made by the Georgia Department of Public Health, and can be viewed at https://dph.georgia.gov/county-indicator-reports.
Gwinnett is currently listed as having “moderate” transmission, according to the state.
“Know that GCPS will continue to strongly encourage masks during times of ‘Moderate’ and even ‘Low’ transmission as part of our layered mitigation strategies, and move quickly to reinstate the requirement for masks should community spread rise to the ‘Substantial’ or ‘High’ range,” Watts said.
“Experience over the last 20 months has taught us how quickly things can change. This plan provides the flexibility for our schools to safely manage that change. Working together, we will navigate the COVID-19 situation through the spring, ensuring we address the needs of students and staff.”
The district also announced the following quarantine guidelines for people identified as a close contact with someone who has a confirmed or probable case of COVID:
♦ Quarantine for two weeks during periods when masks are not required — unless they are fully vaccinated or had COVID within the previous 90 days. They will learn asynchronously during quarantine, and will be able to access their assignments through either eCLASS or materials that were provided by their teachers.
♦ Follow current quarantine protocols during times when masks are required. That means students do not have to quarantine if they and the student identified as a confirmed or probable COVID case were both wearing masks when they were in close contact with each other.
Staff members will continue to follow current quarantine guidance, which means staff members who were within six feet of someone with a positive case for at least 15 minutes must go into quarantine — regardless of whether they wore a mask — unless they are fully vaccinated or had COVID within the previous 90 days.