Pointing to decreases in cases, more local school systems dropped mask requirements this week.
Henry County Schools, Geneva County Schools and Eufaula City Schools lifted mask mandates earlier this week, following similar actions by Dothan City Schools, Houston County Schools, and Geneva City Schools.
And the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), which still recommends masking and a three-foot distance in classrooms, issued updates to its guidance for schools, including a “test to stay” quarantine option for unvaccinated close contacts among students, teachers, and staff who are exposed while at school.
Cases among Alabama’s school districts continued to see a drop last week. According to the state’s K-12 dashboard, updated weekly on Thursdays, there were 2,487 cases reported by school districts on Sept. 30 – down from 3,802 the previous week.
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As the delta variant has loosened its hold on the state, the rise in case numbers has slowed and hospitalizations have dropped. Locally, Southeast Health reported 34 people hospitalized on Wednesday, and Flowers Hospital had 28 patients with COVID-19. Statewide, there were 1,145 people hospitalized due to COVID-19.
There are now 2.01 million people in Alabama who are fully vaccinated and 2.5 million who have received one or more doses of vaccine.
Houston, Henry, and Barbour counties all have vaccination rates between 37% to nearly 39% among eligible residents in those counties. The remaining Wiregrass counties – Coffee, Covington, Dale, Geneva, and Pike – all have between 31% and 35% of eligible people fully vaccinated.
The Wiregrass has had 57,363 cases of COVID-19 and 1,284 deaths due to the illness. There have been 804,249 cases reported in Alabama and 14,612 deaths statewide since the pandemic began.
The ADPH updates for schools, which were added last week, are exceptions to the standard 14-day quarantine after an exposure to COVID-19.
Under the “test to stay” option, unvaccinated close contacts exposed at school can return if they have isolated at home for seven days, show no symptoms of COVID-19 and have a negative PCR or antigen test on day five, six, or seven after exposure. They will also have to wear a mask while at school.
Unvaccinated close contacts who isolate for 10 days can return to school on day 11 without testing if they show no symptoms.
In K-12 settings, vaccinated individuals do not have to isolate after an exposure if they are not experiencing symptoms and neither do those who tested positive for COVID-19 and are fully recovered in the three months prior to the exposure. Isolating close contacts is also not required if masks are worn properly in classroom settings and students are three feet apart.
ADPH recommends close contacts be monitored for symptoms, wear masks at school and be tested within three to five days of exposure in some cases.
While a few local districts began the school year with mask requirements, others adopted mask mandates after hundreds of students had to be sent home to isolate because they were exposed while at school.
Local 7-day positivity rates range from 8.2% in Barbour County, 8.8% in Houston County, 9% in Pike County and up to 11.3% in Geneva County, 13.9% in Henry County, 14.3% in Coffee County and more than 15% in both Covington and Dale counties.
Overall community transmission is considered high risk if over the past seven days there are more than 100 new cases per 100,000 persons and the percent of positivity in testing is greater than 10%. As of Wednesday, most local counties were considered high risk with the exception of Barbour, Houston, and Pike counties.
Peggy Ussery is a Dothan Eagle staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com or 334-712-7963. Support her work and that of other Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.