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Almost 400 out due to COVID-19, Cullman County Schools won’t require masks

The Alabama Department of Public Health, the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups all recommend universal masking in schools.

Cullman County School Superintendent Shane Barnette

After nearly 400 students and staff were out of school, quarantined for either testing positive for COVID-19 or having been exposed, Cullman County Schools won’t require masks. 

Cullman County School Superintendent Shane Barnette in a video posted to the system’s facebook page said the schools are leaving it up to parents as to whether their children wear masks to school. 

“Our numbers yesterday, at the end of the day, were very alarming. Our COVID-related absences were almost 400, which is higher than any one day last school year. 

“A lot of our numbers right now are students that are coming to school, either exposed at home, or they’ve already shown symptoms or tested positive, and we’ve sent them on to school,” Barnette said. “I need those students to stay at home and just report that to the school that they’ve either been exposed, or that they’ve tested positive.” 

The school board was to hold a special called meeting to discuss the matter, Barnette said, but that meeting was cancelled because of the requirements for school boards to announce such meetings 24 hours in advance. 

“But after I spoke to the board members, there was no meeting needed,” Barnette said. 

“We’re not requiring masks. I want that to be a parent’s choice,” Barnette said. “I think that’s important. For whatever reason, some people believe in masks. Some people don’t, and I’m not here to debate that today.” 

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“Once again. I don’t like masks. I know some people do. Once again, I’m not here to debate that,” Barnette said. 

Groups and agencies that have issued guidance urging universal masking in schools are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Alabama Department of Public Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society and a group of Alabama pediatricians who wrote a letter urging schools to require universal masking

Gov. Kay Ivey has said she’ll issue no further mask mandates or other restrictive measures related to COVID-19, leaving it up to local school systems to decide. 

Barnette said students who wear masks will not be sent home to quarantine if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19. 

Just two ICU beds were available statewide on Monday. State hospitals had 2,631 hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday. That’s a 174 percent increase from three weeks before and just 435 patients shy of the state’s highest COVID-19 hospitalization, set on Jan. 11. 

There were 40 children hospitalized with COVID-19 in Alabama on Monday, up from nine on July 15.

Children’s of Alabama had 23 COVID-positive children on Friday, which was double the hospital’s highest previous count, set last winter. 

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David Kimberlin, co-director of the hospital’s Pediatric Division of Infectious Diseases, said children being hospitalized are younger and suffering more severe symptoms than those who were infected with the original strain. 

Kimberlin has also urged school systems to require masks. 

“This is a different virus — a different manifestation of things that it does and how bad and fast it can happen than anything we had experienced early in the pandemic,” Kimberlin said.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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