Atlanta Public Schools announced masks would be made optional district-wide starting Feb. 1, 2022, if community transmission is low enough. The announcement was made during the Dec. 6 Atlanta Board of Education meeting.
“What we’re proposing is, tentatively, beginning February 1st, 2022, Atlanta Public Schools will use the COVID-19 transmission levels for both Fulton and DeKalb County to make informed decisions on optional masks,” APS epidemiologist Juliana Prieto said. “Any changes will be in conjunction with our existing COVID-19 health and mitigation strategies.”
The Feb. 1 date was chosen for APS to take precautions after the winter break.
“It gives us additional time to monitor any post-holiday transmission that may occur and also for us to understand more about the omicron variant that we’re seeing in the news right now,” Prieto said.
After Feb. 1, the status of the mask mandate will be determined based on weekly data from Fulton and DeKalb Counties.
“When Fulton and Dekalb County transition has been maintained at the moderate level for two consecutive weeks, APS will transition to optional mask-wearing in its facilities,” Prieto said.
If Fulton County or DeKalb County experiences transmission levels at or above the ‘substantial’ level, APS will require masks.
Midtown school nurse Wanda Taylor said she believes APS proposed removing the mask mandate because other districts in the Atlanta metro area have relaxed their mask policies.
“I think they’ve been pressured,” Taylor said. “All the other schools have done it. Why is APS not doing it? All the other schools are not having a mass infection or outbreak. Why doesn’t APS do it? I think there is kind of giving in a little bit to peer pressure to say, ‘Okay, we’ll see.’”
Taylor thinks waiting to relax mask policies is the right decision.
“I think it’s good that it’s being put off because now we have omicron [variant],” Taylor said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to say, ‘Hey, we’ll try it too.’ Let’s wait until after February and see what omicron does. How’s [the Delta variant] getting back into control? Let’s see what happens. Let’s see if we can get more people vaccinated.”
Social studies teacher Mary Van Atta said the decision will be controversial among students.
“I think there are a lot of students who, after the last year and three quarters, feel concerned about their health, whether it’s due to Covid or anything else,” Van Atta said. “I think that there will be people who will not give up their masks readily because they maybe don’t want to catch a cold that’s going around, or maybe they just don’t feel comfortable leaving [a mask] behind.”
Sophomore Callamei Chan is against removing the mask mandate.
“I was a breakthrough case, and I was double vaccinated,” Chan said. “I was on my bed for two weeks, just laying there. It was awful. I just feel like [students] should just be respectful and wear masks so other people don’t have to go through that.”
Other students like sophomore Andrés Lewis think mask-wearing should be made optional.
“Simply put, I am past tired of having to come to school with a mask and it does absolutely nothing,” Lewis said. “If Covid-19 were in the school, people would be infected regardless [of a mask].”
The potential change in mask policy doesn’t only affect students during school hours, but also in their extracurriculars. During the meeting, APS said performing arts students are now no longer required to wear masks while actively performing.
“Masks are required on buses, during practice or rehearsal and while attending performances and that’s for both students and staff,” APS Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Dr. Katika Lovett said. “However, masks will not be required for students while they are actively performing. Of course, in band, you would not have that on if you’re performing with an instrument but, particularly for those students who are participating in theater or chorus, we want to make sure that, during that time, students are not masked so we are able to clearly hear them during their performances.”
The district also announced mask policies have now been changed for athletes
“Masks are required on buses in locker rooms and on benches,” Lovett said. “Masks are also required for weight rooms and indoor athletic facilities. This is still in alignment with our APS mask protocol. Masks are not required, however, for students while they are in active play.”
However, Taylor believes it is still important to be cautious despite improvements in infection rates for Midtown and APS.
“They’re saying that was 91 people, 100 people every day are testing positive or being hospitalized, Taylor said. “Hospitals are still under stress for caring for cases. … Wearing the mask, the social distancing, the space that we give each other, it’s working. The proof is that nobody’s sick.”