Friday, August 6, 2021
Ana Rodriguez Soto - Florida Catholic newspaper
MIAMI | Masks, social distancing and plexiglass dividers will continue to be classroom features in the Archdiocese of Miami, at least for the first few weeks of school – or as long as the delta variant of COVID-19 rampages through South Florida.
Masks will be required indoors for those who are unvaccinated, including staff, teachers, and children under 12, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine. Older students and adults will have the option of not wearing masks if they show proof that they are vaccinated, as long as social distancing of 3 to 6 feet or more can be maintained.
Masks will not be required while children and teachers are outdoors or during vigorous exercise.
That’s the gist of the archdiocese’s updated COVID-19 policy, a summary of which was released at 2 p.m. Aug. 6, 2021. Archdiocesan principals received the policy a day earlier, at their first meeting of the 2021-22 school year — also the first time they met with Jim Rigg, the archdiocese’s new superintendent of schools and secretary for education.
“We feel this is a morally and medically correct policy,” Rigg told the principals assembled for the day-long meeting at the Pastoral Center. He added that the policy has been reviewed by legal counsel for the archdiocese as well as the Florida Catholic Conference.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order July 30 prohibiting school districts from requiring that students wear masks and threatening to pull funding from those that did so. In May, DeSantis also signed into law legislation that makes it illegal for private businesses to require proof of vaccination from customers.
But Sister Elizabeth Worley, archdiocesan chancellor for administration, said she has consulted with medical professionals who agree that DeSantis’ actions are not correct from a scientific point of view. “The situation (with COVID) is worse now than it was last summer when we didn’t have a vaccine,” she said.
On Aug. 6, Florida reported 22,783 new infections, its highest daily case total since the pandemic began more than a year ago. The seven-day average of cases was 18,120 as of Aug. 4, a 675% increase from July 4 of this year.
The state now accounts for about 22% of all the new infections in the U.S. despite representing only 6.5% of the population. Hospitals are reporting increased COVID hospitalizations among a much younger population, with more than 90% of those patients unvaccinated. Several hospitals systems have once again postponed elective surgeries to deal with the overflow of COVID patients.
In an introduction to the new policy summary, Archbishop Thomas Wenski wrote that “vaccinations, masks, social distancing, etc., of course, are not 100% effective but not to attempt to mitigate risks to parishioners and school families would be a failure of pastoral oversight on my part.”
Since vaccinations came out in December, the Catholic Church has taught that it is morally acceptable to use any of the COVID-19 vaccines “in the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic.” Getting vaccinated not only conforms with the duty to protect one’s own health, according to Church teaching, but also the moral responsibility to protect “the most vulnerable” and ensure the common good.
Sister Elizabeth, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine, stressed that “the only way” to end the pandemic is through vaccination. Masks, plexiglass and social distancing are merely layered ways of preventing unchecked spread of the virus.
She noted that a few weeks ago, the archdiocesan policy might have been different, given the low case numbers in June and early July. But all that changed with the rise of the delta variant, which according to a government report, spreads as easily as chicken pox and now accounts for about 80% of all new infections in the U.S.
Sister Elizabeth stressed that the archdiocese will review the policy weekly and revise it, if necessary, to adjust to changing transmission numbers. She noted that in the United Kingdom and India the delta variant seemed to “burn itself out” after a few weeks of exponential spread. School parents will be notified of any changes.
A summary of the policy, for elementary and secondary schools, is available by clicking on the images below. (Please note that each PDF is two pages long; the image does not show the entire document.)
Corrected: The law passed by the legislature prohibits private businesses, such as cruise lines, from requiring customers to prove they have been vaccinated. It does not apply to employers, as originally stated in the story.