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Child health organization promotes masks in schools; Olmsted public health director weighs in

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that everyone in school buildings mask up whether vaccinated or not.

AAP recommends universal masking because a significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccines, and masking is proven to reduce transmission of the virus and to protect those who are not vaccinated. Many schools will not have a system to monitor vaccine status of students, teachers and staff and some communities overall have low vaccination uptake where the virus may be circulating more prominently.

This recommendation puts pressure on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that currently recommends only the unvaccinated wear masks in schools.

"From a national viewpoint, it might make some sense to say, well if we need to do something for all schools, in the whole country, let's just say everybody wear a mask. Because that's the simplest, easiest way to do it," said Graham Briggs, Olmsted County Public Health Director.

He understands the recommendation but believes every state and county is different.

"For us here, if we've got a high vaccination rate and we've got a low rate of illness with the cases and we're not seeing much activity. It might make sense to have a different conversation here."

Briggs said Olmsted County's population is about 64% vaccinated. 77% of people who are 12 years of age or older are fully vaccinated, and 78% of people 16 and older are fully vaccinated.

He also said Olmsted County is the second-highest county with the most vaccinated by population. Cooke County in northern Minnesota is leading the state.

On Monday, President Biden's Chief Medical Advisor told CNN the AAP's recommendation is about being "extra safe."

"I think that the American Academy of Pediatrics, you know, they’re a thoughtful group, they analyze the situation, and if they feel that that’s the way to go, I think that’s a reasonable thing to do," said Dr. Anthony Fauci.

However, implementing a change that big takes a lot of discussion.

"We may end up doing more harm than good, if we ask a bunch of people who are now vaccinated to wear masks again after we've really talked about how important the vaccine is," Briggs said.

The Minnesota Department of Health told KTTC the health and safety of students, their families and school and faculty is a top priority.

The Minnesota Department of Education is working with the Minnesota Department of Health to review the CDC’s recommendations for the upcoming year. We are in the process of updating our guidance, which will include recommendations on health and safety measures including masking. We do not have any legislation in Minnesota on this. As far as requirements go, we have continued to follow federal requirements, such as masking on public transportation including school buses.

Briggs is on the COVID Advisory Team for Rochester Public Schools which is analyzing school guidelines and taking all recommendations into consideration.

"Ultimately, the decision will come down to the superintendent and the school district to determine what works for them. But, I think we are still in the information gathering and accessing stage and utilizing that information to make a decision about mask use in the fall," he said.

On Tuesday, July 27, the Rochester Schools Board will hear from the superintendent on mask recommendations.

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KaMaria Braye

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