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Archdiocese of Baltimore schools issue mask guidance for fall

The Archdiocese of Baltimore Department of Catholic Schools issued guidelines Aug. 16 for mask usage for the opening of schools this fall.

A memo to parents and guardians notes that Catholic schools in the archdiocese operate in nine jurisdictions/counties within Maryland. All the jurisdictions within the archdiocese except Garrett County have at least one Catholic school. 

“Over the past 30 days, all jurisdictions have experienced the impact of the COVID-19 delta variant. The result of that impact has been an increase in positive cases across all age groups, with nearly 20 percent of the cases found in individuals between 0-19 years of age,” the memo said.

All archdiocesan Catholic schools will follow the case count in the county or Baltimore City in which the school is located, regardless of where the student lives. 

Under the guidelines, masking status will be based on the average new cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days. In low-transmission (0 to 1.3 cases per 100,100) and moderate transmission jurisdictions (1.3-7.0 cases/100,000), parents can make the choice to have their children wear a mask. In areas with substantial (7.1-14.1 cases/100,000) and high (14.2 cases/100,000 and higher) transmission, masks will be required for all adults and students.

“County transmission levels will be monitored daily and masking changes, if warranted, will be implemented at the beginning of each school week. Families will be notified on Sunday evening of the school’s masking status for the week.”

According to a chart provided by the schools department, as of Aug. 16, all the jurisdictions in the Archdiocese of Baltimore were in the substantial or high transmission category, except Carroll County at 7.04 cases per 100,000 (moderate).

In low and moderate transmission areas, the guidance said it will be “parental choice as to whether their children will wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status. Anyone who wants to wear a mask may wear a mask and is supported in their decision. Parents of children of any age and any vaccination status are entitled to request that their own children wear masks. Enforcement of this request is between the parent and child, and teachers are not required to be the enforcer of such parental requests.”

In substantial and high transmission areas, the guidance said, “All adults and students are mandated to mask in school facilities regardless of vaccination status. Masking will be maintained in that school, until the case count per 100,000 falls below 7.1 cases for the jurisdiction.”

A State of Maryland or local jurisdiction department of health order (not a recommendation) regarding marking will supersede the archdiocesan guidance, if it is stricter.

Each school will record any new COVID-19 cases and absences on a daily basis and report that to the archdiocesan Office of Risk Management, which coordinates coronavirus response. 

School facilities should operate at social distancing of 3 feet, where possible, in the classroom. Classroom cohorts are encouraged by not mandated. 

Masks will not be required for outdoor activities or while students are eating in the cafeteria, the guidance said. Students will eat lunch with their class. 

Field trips can resume. Facemasks must be worn by all people on public transportation conveyances including public and private school buses. 

Ongoing sanitization of school facilities and hand hygiene practices will be required to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, RSV infections and influenza. 

The guidance further noted that vaccinations are a personal choice; however, leaders strongly encouraged the school community to get vaccinated to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 and influenza. When Archbishop William E. Lori received the COVID-19 vaccination in January, he called it “an act of charity and love.”

He pointed out that ethicists from the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have said that it is morally acceptable to receive the vaccines available. Some have been concerned that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were tested with abortion-derived stem cell lines; the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine was developed and tested with that cell line. 

The chairmen of the bishops’ committees on doctrine and on pro-life activities quoted the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which judged that “when ethically irreproachable COVID-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”

“I think it’s very important that we all get vaccinated because I think ultimately that’s how we are going to control this virus and that’s ultimately how we are going to restore and contribute to public safety,” Archbishop Lori said in January.

The archbishop said vaccinations are “an important thing to do for your family, for your coworkers (and) for the people all around you to make sure that you don’t get the disease, but also that you don’t transmit it.”

The schools guidance noted, “We all have an important role to play to prevent any exposures, spread or an outbreak in the school community. We must remain vigilant and disciplined to maintain the progress that has been made to stop the spread of COVID-19 and other RSV infections.” It noted that flu season and other respiratory viruses will be coming as we enter fall and winter. “We will be utilizing our experience with COVID-19 with our continued emphasis on the risk mitigation strategies of testing, sanitization, ventilation, and influenza vaccine clinics to address this health concern.”

The guidance said the Department of Schools will actively monitor levels of coronavirus community transmission in the state. “While we hope it will not be necessary to reinstitute more stringent protocols such as last year, if the circumstances warrant – due to conditions in our schools and community – we reserve the right to return to masking, cohorting, and, if needed, hybrid scheduling to slow the spread of COVID-19 or other infectious diseases.

“The safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff will always be our top priority,” the guidelines said.

To read the guidelines, click here

Contact Christopher Gunty at editor@CatholicReview.org

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