Johnson County health officials recommend requiring indoor masks at public schools this fall

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The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment on Friday issued a new set of recommendations aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools — recommendations that may put school boards at odds with public health officials.

In a letter sent to the superintendents and school boards of Johnson County’s six public school districts, JCDHE Director Sanmi Areola, PhD; and Local Health Officer Joseph LeMaster, MD, wrote that JCDHE “recommends that school boards implement a policy that requires indoor mask wearing among persons who are not fully vaccinated.”

The letter also urges school districts to “strongly promote vaccination among your eligible students, faculty and staff.”

Why it matters: The school boards of the USD 232 (De Soto), Blue Valley and Olathe School Districts have all adopted policies in recent weeks that will make face masks optional for students this fall.

The Shawnee Mission School District is the only major district in the county yet to formalize a policy on mask wearing for the 2021-22 school year.

JCDHE’s recommendation letter to school came the same day that the consortium of 11 public health offices in the Kansas City metro area issued a new advisory recommending that unvaccinated individuals wear masks indoors. That recommendation came in response to lagging vaccine rates and a sharp upward trend in new COVID-19 cases — albeit at levels far below the peak of the pandemic late last year.

“Substantial risks remain to those who are not fully vaccinated, including children under age 12 years for whom there is no currently authorized vaccine,” Areola and LeMaster wrote in the letter to superintendents. “The highly transmissible Delta variant is now the dominant strain in Johnson County, resulting in an increase in new cases and numerous outbreaks associated with summer camps and school-age programs.”

What comes next: The Shawnee Mission Board of Education next meets at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, July 26 and has one more meeting after that — on Aug. 9 — before the new school year begins.

JCDHE’s letter to school officials is embedded below:

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About the author

Jay Senter
Jay Senter

Jay Senter is the founder and publisher of the Post.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in business at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where he worked as a reporter and editor at The Badger Herald.

He went on to receive a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas, where he earned the Calder Pickett Award. While he was in graduate school, he also worked as a reporter for the Lawrence Journal-World.