COVID-19 cases are down 70% from their peak in early September in the Hall County School District, and the number of schools mandating masks is now zero, said Superintendent Will Schofield in a video update Friday.
According to data on the district’s website, there are 93 confirmed cases and 103 quarantines as of Monday, Sept. 27.
“We will continue to hope that the trends continue,” Schofield said. “I want to thank our custodial staff, I want to thank all of our schools for the mitigations that they continue to do to try to prevent spread.”
In early September, the district reported about 450 confirmed cases, Schofield said in an interview, more than doubling its all-time case record during this delta wave. The previous record was set in December 2020 at 198.
A few weeks ago, a dozen schools were mandating masks in an effort to mitigate spread of COVID-19, though the district as a whole has maintained its mask-optional policy.
“Again, I'm not interested in a mask debate,” Schofield said in the video update. “For 50 years, it's been pretty clear science that masks do not prevent much of anything, particularly cloth masks. However, we do know that that masking does slow down the spread of airborne diseases. And we also have learned over the last 19 months that masks have some incredibly negative effects, particularly for our youngest learners.”
Schofield has said that one of the main reasons for leaving masks optional is that they negatively impact the mental health of students and may hinder the social development of young children.
The Centers for Disease Control continues to recommend universal masking in schools. In a recent report, the CDC found: “Counties without school mask requirements experienced larger increases in pediatric COVID-19 case rates after the start of school compared with counties that had school mask requirements.”
The district is piloting the use of ultraviolet-light air filters in some of its schools and has purchased some 20 units, Schofield said, each costing roughly $2,000 and paid for with CARES funding.
“We know it's something that whether it's COVID or the flu or even a common cold, UV light treatment works,” Schofield said. “The question will be, how well and just how scalable is it in 100,000-square-foot school building.”
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine marks as true the claim that “UV light destroys the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.”
The units will be placed in the commons areas of East Hall High School and Chestnut Mountain Creative School of Inquiry, with plans to expand to more schools, said Facilities Assistant Jeff Dale. He said the units will be purchased from Price Industries, a company in Winder.
Schofield encouraged people to get vaccinated and said “the data seems to be extremely clear” that those who are vaccinated are far less likely to have a severe case of COVID-19. “That's not Dr. Will speaking,” he said. “That's just pure data that if you have been vaccinated for COVID you don't tend to end up in the ICU ward at the local hospital.”
He also implored people to stay home if they’re feeling ill or have any COVID-related symptoms.
“Of the very few number of outbreaks that we've had this year, several of them were traced to students who were sent to school that didn't feel well, some even that had outstanding COVID tests in their immediate family,” Schofield said. “I would beg you, that if you are not feeling well, if your child is not feeling well, please stay home, get tested, make sure you're OK before you come to school. That's something we all can do for each other.”