Colorado’s new mask guidance suggests Routt County students should wear masks in schools |

Colorado’s new mask guidance suggests Routt County students should wear masks in schools

Colorado updated its guidance for masks in schools Friday, suggesting school districts in the state should consider masks for the unvaccinated and, in areas of higher transmission like Routt County, masks for everyone.

The guidance stops short of recommending masks for everyone in schools regardless of community transmission rates like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did last week.

Instead, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is opting for a decentralized guidance strategy that leaves the final decision on school COVID-19 protocols to local public health and school officials.

“The guidance does not constitute statewide requirements but instead outlines evidence-based best practices for local governments and schools to implement together to manage the next stage of the pandemic,” the guidance said.

High transmission is classified differently by different agencies. The CDC considers high transmission more that 50 cases per 100,000 people in a week, which translates to about 13 cases in a week in Routt County. Higher risk for state health officials is defined as 35 cases per 100,000 people, or about nine local cases in a week.

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Routt County recorded 29 new cases in the most recent week, putting it within high transmission metrics for both agencies.

There have been two hospitalizations of county residents in the past two weeks, and the state has seen hospitalizations increase each of the past three weeks. Three people died of COVID-19 in Moffat County last week.

This next stage of the pandemic is being driven by the delta variant of COVID-19, which the CDC said is more transmissible than viruses like the common cold, the seasonal flu, smallpox and Ebola, and is just as contagious as chickenpox, according to The New York Times.

The CDC also said the variant is leading to more severe illness than other strains of the virus, with studies from Canada and Scotland finding variant cases are more likely to end up in the hospital and another from Singapore suggesting the variant increases the likelihood a COVID-19 patient will be put on oxygen.

Latest estimates from state health officials attribute more than 95% of Colorado’s new cases of the virus to the delta variant.

Superintendents of school districts in Routt County met with Public Health Director Roberta Smith last week about mitigation protocols in schools when students return in about three weeks.

Each of the districts is planning a full-time, in-person return to school this fall, but district leaders have not made official decisions on whether they will require students to wear masks.

Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Brad Meeks said in a letter to families Friday that the district’s approach to masks is still uncertain but will be decided by the week of Aug. 16. The school board will meet Aug. 9 — once more before school begins Aug. 24.

“(Masks) are a particularly challenging issue given that national, state and local guidance are not only currently misaligned but slow in emerging, and when they do, they tend to change rapidly,” Meeks said.

Meeks and members of the school board have often said the changes and lack of clarity in state guidance are frustrating, and that continues now that state officials have updated guidance for schools twice in as many weeks.

Superintendents at the county’s other two districts have both signaled they have little desire to require students to wear masks this fall. The Hayden School Board meets Aug. 9, and the Soroco School Board meets Aug. 17.

Schools are also stressing that parents who want to vaccinate their children ahead of the start of the 2021-22 school year should do so as soon as they can, as it takes someone five weeks to realize full protection from the Pfizer vaccine, which is the only currently approved vaccine for those younger than 18.

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