MONTGOMERY — State Superintendent Eric Mackey on Friday said there will be no push from the state department to require students or staff to wear masks when schools resume next month.
Mackey told Alabama Daily News it will be up to local schools to approach mask-wearing and social distancing.
“Local school districts have the authority if they want to do something with requirements, but we are not going to do any guidance from the state level on that,” Mackey said.
Gov. Kay Ivey’s press secretary Gina Maiola confirmed to ADN that the governor will not be pushing a mask mandate for schools.
“Gov. Ivey believes students need to be in the classroom without any type of mask requirement,” Maiola said. “She continues to encourage all eligible Alabamians to roll up their sleeves and get the vaccine to make COVID-19 a distant memory.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Friday that vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear masks inside school buildings, a relaxation of their COVID-19 guidelines for schools, the Associated Press reported.
The change comes as the nation continues its vaccination campaign with children as young as 12 being eligible to get shots.
“We’re at a new point in the pandemic that we’re all really excited about,” and so it’s time to update the guidance, said Erin Sauber-Schatz, who leads the CDC task force that prepares recommendations designed to keep Americans safe from COVID-19.
The CDC is also recommending that schools should continue to space kids – and their desks – 3 feet apart in classrooms, but Mackey said they won’t be pushing for that either.
“Most desks are already 3 feet apart, side to side, but front to back, that’s very difficult to do,” Mackey said. “It would put us back into doing things like, hybrid school and A/B scheduling all next year and we just don’t think that’s the right thing to do.”
The state’s state of emergency order related to the pandemic ended July 6, and the statewide mask requirement expired three months ago.
Mackey also said COVID-19 vaccines are not a requirement for students to attend school, and while there won’t be a formal program to bring more vaccines into schools, he is encouraging anyone who can get vaccinated to do so.
“It’s a parent’s decision, but that’s not going to keep us from saying I believe our parents need to go visit their physician and talk to them about it,” Mackey said.
Alabama currently has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with about one-third of the population fully vaccinated.
Alabama has seen a slight uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations and the percent of tests coming back positive, state numbers show. There were 251 people in state hospitals with COVID-19 on Friday, although that is a fraction of the 3,000 that were hospitalized at the peak of the pandemic.
The percentage of tests returning positive for COVID-19 has increased to 4.8%, the highest point since mid-May, the Alabama Department of Public Health said in a news release.