Masks optional on IW school buses

Published 4:03 pm Friday, March 4, 2022

Isle of Wight County Schools has made masks optional on school buses.

The school system had already transitioned to optional indoor masking on Feb. 22 in accordance with a new state law allowing parents to opt out of any school mask mandate, without needing to provide a reason. But Isle of Wight was still requiring masks on school buses through Feb. 25 per a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order mandating universal masking – regardless of vaccination status – on all forms of public transportation.

The CDC amended its public transportation order on Feb. 25 to exempt buses and vans operated by public and private school systems or child care programs.

The exemption, the CDC’s website states, is to align with its updated guidance that no longer recommends universal indoor masking in K-12 schools in areas with low or medium COVID-19 transmission.

Cities and counties reporting fewer than 10 new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 people over a seven-day window, or a seven-day average of less than 10% for the percentage of staffed inpatient hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, fall into the “low” category per the CDC’s updated guidance.

Localities reporting fewer than 200 new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day window, with more than 10 but less than 20 new hospitalizations per week, or a seven-day average between 10% and 14.9% for inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients fall into the “medium” category. Localities with more than 200 new cases per 100,000 in a week, but fewer than 10 new hospitalizations per 100,000 and a seven-day average of less than 10% for inpatient beds taken by COVID-19 patients also fall into the medium category.

The “high” transmission category is now reserved for localities reporting 200 or more new cases per 100,000 people and more than 10 new hospitalizations per 100,000 over a seven-day window, or more than 10% of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. Localities reporting fewer than 200 new cases per 100,000 over seven days but more than 20 new hospitalizations during the same window, or more than 15% of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, can also fall into the high category.

The new definitions are a sharp departure from the CDC’s 2021 metrics, which had defined high transmission as any locality reporting 100 or more cases per 100,000 residents or a positivity rate of 10% or higher.

On Feb. 27, Isle of Wight County Schools notified parents of the change in policy. The school system’s letter states IWCS recently surveyed its drivers and found a majority of its drivers would prefer students to continue wearing masks.

“We realize this could create a dilemma between our employees and families, which is not our intent … . We hope you will consider the health and safety of your child’s bus driver as you make your decision,” the letter states. “We are appealing to families to continue having their child wear a mask while riding the school bus. Many of our drivers and aides are older members of our community who have dedicated countless years to numerous children. We ask for extended grace and kindness for all of our drivers as you place your child in their care each and every day.”