Miami-Dade County Public Schools is relaxing mask mandates for high school and middle school students in the district, citing low rates of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in the community.
Effective immediately, these students will be able to opt out of wearing masks, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced. The easing of the mask policy would give parents an opt-out provision for their children.
The decision was based on the district meeting seven metrics established by its medical expert task force, including the positivity rate in the community and the number of cases in schools.
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“This demonstrates that we continue to be a district guided by science, guided by data, not by opinion," Carvalho said.
The state of Florida mandated the parental opt out at the start of the school year, but Miami-Dade, Broward County Public Schools and several other school districts defied that order.
Schools and COVID
"I know that no matter what we say or do, there will be controversy," Carvalho said Monday. "And that is why, in the middle of so many opinions about a topic and an issue that should be driven solely by the expertise of medical entities and public health officials, we made the decision, fully endorsed by this board, that we follow science."
A parental opt out was the original back-to-school plan in Miami. But the delta variant spread rapidly across Florida during the summer, causing a spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
“We have improved significantly, we have listened to our health experts, and that is why we are relaxing these protocols," Carvalho said.
The teacher’s union called this move a step in the right direction, but some teachers are still nervous.
“And to be honest, you can’t disagree with the data, it does seem that cases are going down and cases are diminished," said Andy Kearns, who teaches math at Jose Marti MAST Academy. "I will, however, ask my students to continue to wear a mask in my classroom because I am immunocompromised.”
Carvalho believes the reason COVID-19 cases have gone down in schools is directly linked to the school board’s decision to defy the state and make masks mandatory.
"Data inside of schools is more favorable than data outside of schools, that tells you something," he said. "It is a protective environment, so I think we’ve proven something here."
The change does not apply to elementary school kids, most of who are still not eligible for a vaccine.
However, that could change as early as Tuesday night when the CDC could make a final recommendation on Pfizer’s vaccine for kids ages 5-11.
“As soon as the FDA issued its authorization, within minutes, our teams were already packing and shipping pediatric doses to providers across the country,” said Bechara Choucair, the White House Vaccinations Coordinator.
With doses already on the way, Choucair says we could see some shots in arms as soon as later this week. He expects the program to be fully up and running by next week.
Choucair says they’ve been working with governors, providers and health departments as they develop their plans on whether to ship the doses.
“We are now packing the vaccines shipping them to doctors offices, pharmacies community health centers, children’s hospitals, to school based vaccination clinics, to many other places, to make it as easy and as convenient for parents to be able to vaccinate their kids. Some of these doses will start to arrive this week.”