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Milwaukee Public Schools reinstated their mask mandate on Wednesday – just one day after it was lifted – following a COVID spike in Wisconsin and a near 50-percent increase among the district’s staff members.
The school district announced on March 24 that face coverings would become optional in its school districts starting April 18.
But after an emergency school board meeting a day after the change took effect, parents were notified that their children would need to mask up again starting on Thursday due to ‘a significant transmission of the virus within the city.’
There were 479 new cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin on Tuesday – but the next day, that number shot up to 1,585, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
The seven-day average of new cases in the city of Milwaukee also increased on April 15, according to the City of Milwaukee health department, hitting an average of 47 new cases.
Among teachers in the school district, officials said, the COVID positivity rate among staff members increased by 47 percent over the last three weeks.
MPS Superintendent Dr. Keith Posley told WISN that the district ‘made it clear that if the case burden/positivity rate moved to substantial transmission, which is [denoted by the health department as] orange, the district would revert to the mandatory mask policy, and that’s what happened.’
‘I understand the frustration that parents and staff face here, but what I want to make sure we do everything we can from a mitigating strategy to make sure all of our students, staff and our community is safe,’ he said.
When rates dip back down, he said, MPS will consider making masks optional once more.
Milwaukee Public Schools reinstated their mask mandate on Wednesday just a day after it went into effect following a surge in COVID cases in the state and among school staff
The district’s teacher’s union and the Milwaukee Health Department were consulted before the decision was made, he said.
Posley told FOX 6 that ‘everything we have done is to make sure that our students are in school every day.’
‘We are constantly looking at the rate of infection, the positivity rates in the city and our own district dashboard,’ he told the outlet.
University of Wisconsin Health’s medical director of infection prevention, Dr. Dan Shirley, agreed with the district’s choice.
‘When there are rates going up, obviously, now we know the importance of having kids in school,’ he told FOX 6. ‘If there are layers of protection and things we can do there, that’s worth considering.’
MPS Superintendent Dr. Keith Posley told WISN that the district ‘made it clear that if the case burden/positivity rate moved to substantial transmission, which is [denoted by the health department as] orange, the district would revert to the mandatory mask policy, and that’s what happened’
He said that samples taken from Milwaukee’s wastewater show a ‘major increase’ in infection rates, and that he fears that COVID cases may surge.
‘I don’t think by itself the perfect measure yet but definitely a tool, along with a couple of other things, to give us a clue that cases are rising.’
Regardless, hundreds of parents took to social media to voice their exasperation, leaving comments on the district’s Facebook post announcing the swift reversal.
One parent asked if the shift was ‘some kind of joke,’ and another called the district’s move an ‘arrogant power grab.’
‘So disappointed,’ Lori Ward Kanarek wrote on Facebook. ‘One day [with], one day without. And that required an emergency board meeting and a three week transition. To go back requires none of the same.’
Becky Engel wrote that she would ‘like to know who the Karen is who did this’ because she was ‘LIVID.’
‘Those poor kids should really have a choice whether they want to wear those masks or not,’ wrote another poster.
‘I’m calling tomorrow and voicing my opinion. They will not like what I have to say,’ she wrote. ‘This is ridiculous and there is zero science to back this up. Even the federal mandates are gone.’
Other parents were more understanding of the district’s flip-flop.
‘I wish that every last one of the parents that are upset about masks would put that same energy into other things that are lacking within our district,’ wrote Caressa Dixon. ‘Our special education department sucks but y’all want to argue about masks.’
Another Facebook user urged commenters to ‘think outside [themselves] for a moment.’
‘There’s only one reason they’d reverse this decision. Cases are rising and safely staffing buildings is becoming a concern at some schools.’
Throughout the U.S., about 35,000 new COVID cases are emerging per day, according to John’s Hopkins University Data – about a third of the rate two months prior.
The school’s decision came as a federal judge in Florida struck down the CDC’s national mask mandate for public transport, leaving officials to determine whether their cities would enforce local requirements.
Philadelphia announced last week that it would reinstitute its mask mandate as cases rose to 149 per day, and jumped by 86 percent over the past two weeks.
Some cities like New York and Boston will still require masks in some places, even without federal orders. Meanwhile, some cities like Washington D.C. chose to follow the federal government, and rescind orders along with the removal of the CDC order.
The striking down of mask orders comes as Covid continues to recede in the U.S. Cases have remained flat at 37,792 per day, with deaths plummeting 22 percent to 422 per day over the last seven days. The CDC also reports that only 0.5 percent of U.S. counties are considered to be of ‘high’ Covid risk.
The change comes as a new version of the Omicron variant, and potentially a new threat during the pandemic, emerges around the nation.
For the first time Tuesday, the CDC included the BA.2.12.1 variant on its NOWCAST, with the strain making up 19 percent of sequenced cases in America. The sub-strain falls within the BA.2 lineage – which is in itself a sub-strain of the Omicron variant.
Little is known about this version of the virus, though it is believed to have a 27 percent growth advantage over the original version of BA.2, though there is no evidence that it is more severe than its predecessor.
This is now the third different version of Omicron – which in total makes up 100 percent of sequenced cases in the U.S. – to be categorized separately by health officials, a phenomenon that did not occur with previous versions of the virus.