School closures. A new mask mandate. COVID is coming back, but how bad?

Masks will once again be required in Philadelphia's schools as other large districts are also seeing an increase in COVID cases.

A new COVID wave, fueled by the omicron subvariant BA.2, is now hitting schools, forcing a smattering of closures and one major mask mandate. The question is: How big will the disruptions be?

School districts in several parts of the country have reported an uptick in COVID cases in recent days as the subvariant causes new infections in surrounding communities, particularly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

The stiffest measure taken so far is in Philadelphia, which will reimpose a citywide indoor mask mandate beginning Monday. The mandate will cover schools, which will reopen after spring break on April 18.

Philadelphia is averaging 142 new cases of COVID each day, a 50% increase over the 84 new cases that were being reported 10 days ago, the city’s health department said. “By implementing the mask mandate sooner rather than later, the health department hopes to keep the number of cases from skyrocketing, like we saw in December and January from the omicron variant,” the department said. “If we can keep cases low, we can protect our hospitals from being overrun, like they were in January.”

A school district in the city’s outer suburbs has announced a shift to virtual learning when spring break ends next Monday. Last week, 34 new COVID cases were reported by families and staff in the Radnor Township School District—an increase from 11 cases the previous week and three the week before, Superintendent Kenneth E. Batchelor said in a message to the community. The community is also seeing an increase in colds and the flu.

Meanwhile, a high school in Maine returned to in-person learning this Monday (April 11) after being remote for two weeks. Maranacook High School went virtual on March 31 due to a staffing shortage caused by a COVID spike that also hit students.

COVID outbreaks are also on the rise in schools in Los Angeles County, California, where many districts had recently lifted mask requirements. Some 14 new outbreaks were reported in schools as of late last week, up from four the previous week, the Los Angeles Times reported. One outbreak in a high school has caused 60 cases, which is “one of the largest outbreaks we’ve ever had at a school since the beginning of the pandemic,” the county’s public health director told the Los Angeles Times. 

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Schools across Massachusetts recorded an increase in cases for the fourth week in a row last week. Infections rose 14% from March 31 to April 6, reported.

Masks mandates remain in place in a handful of school districts. In Connecticut, New Haven Public Schools has extended its mandate indefinitely as COVID numbers rise in the city and many students remain unvaccinated, the New Haven Register reported. Kalamazoo Public Schools in Michigan is also keeping its mask mandate in place with cases rising among staff and students after last week’s spring break, reported.

On the other hand, masks became optional in Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island on Monday for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. The district of 20,000 students has been averaging less than 10 new cases a day for the last several weeks, while 70% of people who responded to a recent community survey said the mask mandate should end, the district announced.  “We are pleased to be at a point where the data shows it is safe for Providence Public Schools to move to a mask optional policy,” Superintendent Javier MontaÁ±ez said. “However, I want to stress that we may return to masking if there’s a spike in cases.”

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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