With COVID-19 cases declining locally, the Albemarle County school division is planning to adjust its mask policy and roll back some mitigation measures, according to a message emailed to staff and families.
The announcement comes as summer programs are set to start early next month and as officials are working through state and federal guidance to make plans for the 2021-22 school year. All students will have the option to attend in-person classes five days a week.
The school year for county students ended last week.
To help with summer programs, the School Board will vote on July 8 on a revised mask policy that would allow students to remove their masks during outdoor time. School officials said in the message that they’ll practice social distancing whenever possible.
COVID-19 cases have dropped significantly as vaccinations increased. Albemarle and Charlottesville each have seen 21 new cases so far this month. In the Blue Ridge Health District, 73 new cases have been reported in June.
When needed, the Albemarle County division said it will reduce social distancing between students in classrooms to three feet. For the past school year, students were spaced six feet apart. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in March that three feet of space was OK.
“We will continue to maintain greater distance between students when they are eating, taking a mask break, or engaging in physical activity,” officials wrote in the message.
In Charlottesville, fully vaccinated employees working in buildings that don’t serve students can leave their masks at home, according to an update from Acting Superintendent Jim Henderson.
Henderson told city School Board members last week that the change was based on updated information from the Virginia Department of Education. Employees who are not fully vaccinated need to wear a mask and practice social distancing.
Henderson added that he expected to receive more information from the state after June 30, when Gov. Ralph Northam lifts the state of emergency.
In May, Northam lifted the state’s mask mandate after the CDC said those who were fully vaccinated didn’t need to mask up.
Currently, the COVID-19 vaccine is only available to those 12 or older. So far, 69.1% of eligible Albemarle residents are fully vaccinated, according to the Blue Ridge Health District. In Charlottesville, 60% are fully vaccinated.
The changes to mitigation measures for Albemarle schools went into effect this week, according to the message. The division won’t check individuals’ temperatures at facilities and has updated its daily screening tools to account for a person’s vaccination status.
“Temperature readings also require a lot of resources, are not accurate when the air temperature is very high or low, and may actually make people less safe by giving the false impression that COVID-19 is not present,” officials wrote in the message.
Families, employees and visitors still are expected to monitor their own temperatures. However, those who are fully vaccinated will still be able to access school facilities if they have symptoms such as a fever, cough or loss of taste or smell.
The division will notify families and employees if there’s a confirmed COVID-19 case at a school or department. Contact tracing will continue along with the enhanced cleaning measures that went into effect during the past school year.