Neither mask mandates nor other precautions are returning to schools that are dealing with increasing new COVID cases in recent weeks. Reports from Chicago, Massachusetts, New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere indicate new infections are ticking upwards as the BA.2 subvariant spreads, albeit more slowly and less destructively than the initial omicron strain.
And pretty much no one is raising an alarm. In Chicago, where school cases are rising, the city’s top health official predicted the BA.2 wave could be like the initial COVID outbreak in March 2020 or the delta wave of 2021. “We are seeing an increase, but I’m thinking it’s probably going to be more like what we saw during alpha and during delta as opposed to this really out-of-control (surge) that we saw during omicron,” Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said, the Chicago Tribune reported this week.
There were 295 student and 119 staff cases reported in Chicago Public Schools last week, compared to 199 student and 65 staff cases the previous week, the Tribune reported. Chicago Public Schools made masks optional on March 14.
Massachusetts schools reported 3,245 staff and student cases last week, a 25% increase from the week before, The Boston Herald reported. Even so, Springfield Public Schools, which had been one of the last districts to maintain a mask mandate, made face coverings optional on Monday. The district strongly encouraged unvaccinated staff and students, and those with underlying medical conditions, to continue wearing masks. “It’s been a very long time since students and teachers have been able to see one another’s smiles and since they have been able to enjoy the school day without covering their faces,” Superintendent Daniel Warwick said in a statement.
Cases are also rising in some schools in New York state, which made masks optional on March 2. The Central Square School District near Syracuse was averaging one case per day on March 1 but has recorded more than 40 new cases this week, Superintendent Tom Colabufo told LocalSYR.com.
And in Maine, Maranacook Community High School has been on remote learning since March 31 due to a staffing shortage resulting from a COVID spike that has also hit students. On the West Coast, officials in Los Angeles are also tracking a rise in school COVID cases that saw 10 outbreaks over the past week, ABC7.com reported.
However, schools in the Washington, D.C. region continue to report low COVID rates. Cases in Fairfax County Public Schools dropped 50% from February to March, Axios.com reported. Schools in North Carolina are also reporting significant drops in cases, CBS17.com reported.