Friday, August 13, 2021
Ana Rodriguez Soto - Florida Catholic newspaper
MIAMI | After initially making masks optional for staff, teachers and students who are vaccinated, the archdiocese changed its policy this week. It now requires masks for all students, employees and volunteers in elementary schools, regardless of vaccination status. Masks will be optional, “but encouraged,” for all fully vaccinated individuals in high schools.
Children under 12 currently are not eligible for vaccination.
“We are taking a different approach to masking in our high schools due to the availability of a vaccine for all students and employees,” wrote Jim Rigg, superintendent of schools, in a letter sent to Catholic school parents and employees Aug. 13, 2021.
The revised policy will remain in effect “through at least Aug. 31,” Rigg’s letter stated. “We will continue to evaluate our policy continuously in the days and weeks to come,” he added, as the pandemic evolves. School parents will be notified of any changes.
Masks will not be required while students and teachers are outdoors, eating or during vigorous exercise.
An email to school leaders announcing the changes stressed that “all other COVID mitigation efforts that were in place last year are to be maintained to the extent possible with social distancing being as important as the usage of masks.”
That means 3 feet of separation between students and 6 feet between adults and students or adult to adult. It also means keeping plexiglass shields on desks, one-way patterns in the hallways, student seats facing in one direction, classes remaining in place with teachers changing, or classes remaining as a cohort, social distance in the lunch lines and hallways, attention to hand-washing and daily cleaning of all spaces used by students, avoiding close face-to-face encounters and “choosing outdoors whenever possible.”
“These updates are in response to the continued progression of the virus throughout South Florida,” the email to school leaders stated, especially as “COVID-related trends continue to worsen.”
On Aug. 12, Miami-Dade County reported a seven-day average positivity rate of 14.2 percent, and a weekly increase of approximately 360 new cases, on average, every day. “For PCR confirmed cases, the median age is 37 years (range is 0 to 111 years old), 14.9% are children aged 5-17 (15.5% in the previous week), 28.6% are young adults aged 18-34 years (29.0% % in the previous week).”
Also as of Aug. 12, Broward County reported its pediatric ICUs were at 93% of capacity and adult ICUs were at 96% of capacity. The number of COVID-positive patients admitted to Broward hospitals had increased to 1,614 from 1,489 a day earlier.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the seven-day moving average of cases in Florida was 21,375 as of Aug. 12, a 378% increase from July 12 of this year. The state is breaking case-count records set during the previous surge in January 2021, and now accounts for about 19% of all the new infections in the U.S. despite representing only 6.5% of the population.
Hospitals are reporting that more than 90% of their COVID-positive patients are unvaccinated. Several hospital systems have once again postponed elective surgeries to deal with the overflow of COVID patients.
The Aug. 13 policy also updated and simplified the rules for quarantining and testing when staff and students return from trips within Florida, the U.S. or internationally.
The unvaccinated do not have to quarantine or test after traveling within Florida. If they travel outside Florida but within the U.S., their school or parish could require a seven-day quarantine and a negative PCR test. A seven-day quarantine and negative PCR test will be mandatory for anyone who is unvaccinated if they travel outside the U.S.
The fully vaccinated will not have to quarantine or test if they travel within Florida or the U.S. If they travel internationally, they will not have to quarantine but will have to take a PCR test “on day 3, 4 or 5” after their return, and report the results to the school or parish.
The rest of the archdiocese’s updated COVID-19 policy, a summary of which was posted Aug. 6, 2021, has not changed. The summary was released after it was announced to principals gathered for their first meeting of the year, Aug. 5, when they also met for the first time with Rigg, who took over as superintendent July 6, 2021.
- Click on the image below to read the entire letter to school leaders. Note that the image contains only the first page of the letter.
- Click here to see the summary of the Aug. 13 policy for elementary and high schools.