OAKLAND, Md. — At a special Garrett County Board of Education meeting Tuesday, the board voted 3-1 in favor of adopting a universal mask mandate as the county has what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls substantial or high spread of COVID-19.
“I think we want to keep all kids, pre-K to 12, in school,” said Barbara Baker, GCPS superintendent.
The recommendation from the superintendent was that a mandate be put in place starting Aug. 30, and should the spread in the community fall into the CDC’s defined low and moderate ranges for two consecutive weeks, then masks would be recommended but not mandatory. If the county were to creep back into the substantial and high range, the mandate would go back into place.
Representatives from the Garrett County Department of Health gave a presentation prior to the vote, advising the board of the situation in the county.
Of children between the ages of 12-17 in Garrett County, 16% are fully vaccinated and 4% are at least partially vaccinated against the virus, said Bob Stephens, GCHD health officer.
A month ago, Garrett had the lowest positivity rate in the state of Maryland at 1.23%, now it has the highest rate at 13.85%.
“If we’ve learned anything from the past year, keeping kids in school and in person is important,” said Stephens. “Ideally, we will be able to get to a point where kids are in school and not having to wear masks, but as it stands, the way to assure children are in school and not out quarantining for long periods of time — masks should be worn in the classroom.
On the vaccine, Jennifer Corder, GCHD deputy health officer, said, “It’s not the only way to bring it (the positivity rate) down, but it’s the safest way. We have imperfect tools but we do our best.”
Three members of the public made comments in person at the meeting — one for and two opposed to the implementation of a mask mandate.
The one for said, “without masks, I see a start, stop, change in the middle kind of year.”
One of those opposed said, “I want my choice for myself and for my kids.”
Approximately 120 to 150 emails were sent in and 20 or so comments were put on the GCPS boards, said Tom Woods, Garrett County Board of Education president.