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No mask mandates for schools, colleges and universities at this time

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice and state health officials said Tuesday they see nothing to warrant imposing statewide mask mandates on West Virginia’s K-12 schools or colleges and universities even with the risk of the Delta COVID-19 variant.

“As of this moment in time right now, I don’t see any reason to move forward or change course from where we are,” Justice said Tuesday afternoon during his COVID-19 briefing at the State Capitol Building. “I think we’ve made phenomenal progress and it is an individual choice at this point and time.”

This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced recommendations for public schools, calling for all students age 2 and older to be required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

“We need to prioritize getting children back into schools alongside their friends and their teachers — and we all play a role in making sure it happens safely,” said Dr. Sonja O’Leary, chair of the AAP Council on School Health. “Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking and clean hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone.”

This is slightly different from recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which recommends that students who have been fully vaccinated two weeks out from their second dose do not need to wear masks. Dr. Clay Marsh, the state coronavirus czar, said the AAP guidance does not contradict the CDC recommendations.

“They’re actually not that different,” Marsh said. “They also said that if you can’t determine the vaccine status of all people in the classroom or if you have people who have not been vaccinated and the prevalence of the virus is high, then it is reasonable then to have everyone masking.”

Marsh said the number of COVID-19 infections caused by the more infectious Delta variant from India increased in the U.S., with 83 percent of new COVID-19 infections caused by the Delta variant as of Monday – up from 58 percent of new U.S. cases on Saturday.

In West Virginia, cases of the Delta variant were up from 19 last week to 22 as of Tuesday. Active COVID-19 cases in the state remain above 1,000 but are slightly down, from 1,115 cases Sunday to 1,098 cases Monday.

According to Marsh, 99.5 percent of deaths were from unvaccinated people along with 97.5 percent of hospitalizations for COVID-19.

“(The Delta variant) in the unvaccinated, that’s causing more and more severe problems, including in children and young adults, which we’re seeing in the hospitals and the ICUs around the country,” Marsh said.

“At the end of the day, it’s so much easier for us to get vaccinated than trying to listen to rules and laws that come down from D.C.,” Justice said. “I think we’ve all got to beware the fact that if this thing turns really nasty – and it could – it could be too late no matter what comes down from D.C. to save a bunch of West Virginian lives. But we can surely save them today if they just go and get vaccinated.”

According to data released by the APP this week, children represent 15.9 percent of the weekly reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S., between 1.3 percent and 3.6 percent of total reported hospitalizations, and between 0.00 percent and 0.26 percent of all COVID-19 deaths.

“This form of the COVID-19, the variant, does not seem to have that same respect for age,” Marsh said. “We know that children can become infected just as adults can. Because these children are healthier and because of the way this virus works, they’re less likely to die or be hospitalized or be admitted to the ICUs than older West Virginians. But we’re seeing a group of children and young adults who are getting sick enough to be seen in hospitals and ICUs.”

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