Masks will be required in SPS buildings when school begins Aug. 23
Throughout the summer, vaccination rates in the community and region have remained low and Springfield has experienced an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Most recently, updated masking guidance has been issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, encouraging a return to in-person learning five days a week with masking required for all students enrolled in grades pre-K through 12. This guidance is supported by the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, CoxHealth and Mercy.
As a result, in order to ensure students are able to learn in-person, five days a week, Springfield Public Schools will require students and staff to wear masks, effective immediately. This decision supports the goal of a safe start to the school year Aug. 23.
“We learned many important lessons about COVID-19 last year. Masking is effective in limiting the spread of the virus at school and reducing the number of cases required to quarantine,” explained Dr. Grenita Lathan, superintendent of SPS. “Keeping more students in school supports their learning and social development while allowing parents to work without frequent disruptions caused when students must quarantine at home following exposure. Our goal is to remove the masking requirement, in collaboration with public health experts, as soon as local data indicates it is appropriate. In the meantime, we will continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on our community and encourage all those over the age of 12 to be vaccinated now. Only by increasing vaccination rates can we hope to quickly return to the sense of normalcy that we all agree is needed.”
Public Health Experts Support Masking
"We appreciate the proactive response of Springfield Public Schools to follow our recommendation and modify protocols when health conditions warrant," said Katie Towns, director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. “Wearing masks is a critical measure we can all take to help our community reduce the spread of COVID-19 while we encourage more of our neighbors to be vaccinated.”
“I think the school district is making a very wise move with this decision, and I would encourage other area districts to consider similar measures,” said Dr. Abhishek Watts, Mercy pediatric section chair. “Just last weekend, I saw more than 15 children at our Advanced Ambulatory Care Clinic who had respiratory symptoms. We’re not only seeing more COVID in kids now than we did last winter, we’re seeing other respiratory illnesses - like RSV - that typically aren’t prevalent at this time of year. Masks will help protect our kids from all these illnesses. I would also encourage parents whose children are ages 12 and older to get your child vaccinated right away. If you have questions, talk to your pediatrician.”
“Over the last few weeks, we have seen growing numbers of kids develop symptoms of COVID, test positive, and require hospitalization, which makes this decision a pivotal one to protect our community’s youngest members,” said Dr. Kayce Morton, CoxHealth pediatric hospitalist, past president of the Greene County Medical Society, and medical director of Pediatrics at Jordan Valley Community Health Center. “I am very glad to see Springfield Public Schools make this decision, as masking is a tool to help contain the spread of the virus in classrooms. This is now more important than ever given the high transmissibility of the delta variant. I would also strongly encourage parents to consider vaccination for children who are eligible. This is another tool that can help keep kids safe, especially since we don’t yet know the long-term side effects of having COVID.”
The SPS masking requirement applies to anyone entering SPS facilities. SPS will continuously monitor community conditions, and, in consultation with appropriate public health agencies, evaluate the need for masking. If conditions improve and the masking requirement is modified, an announcement will be made at that time.
Staff and students are also reminded to maintain social distancing, whenever possible, and to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. If any symptoms are noted, staff and students should not report to school and should seek guidance from a healthcare provider. Details regarding other health and safety protocols will be provided the week of August 9.
Many of the factors that influenced the district’s decision to implement masking for Explore summer learning in July are still present in the Springfield community:
- A surge in COVID-19 positive cases in the community and region, many related to the Delta variant.
- A surge in local hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19.
- Low vaccination rates for Greene County – currently at 41.77 percent fully vaccinated.
According to the CDC, vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. SPS encourages everyone aged 12 and older to get vaccinated immediately. The vaccine is free and readily available at community vaccine clinics. Visit vaccine417.com for a listing of upcoming vaccine clinics.
SPS is partnering with multiple organizations to provide free vaccines to students at Springfield Cardinals games on Aug. 3 and Aug. 5. Anyone who gets the vaccine will receive two free tickets to the games on those nights, as well as a backpack or duffel bag. Find out more about “Knock COVID Out of the Park” here.
"The well-being of our students, staff and their families is our primary focus. As the school year progresses, we will update our community as modifications to our protocols are needed," said Dr. Lathan. "We appreciate the patience and cooperation of everyone we serve as we continue to monitor evolving conditions and make important decisions to ensure our classrooms are safe and healthy places to learn.”
View current masking guidance from the CDC here.